Photo: Mark Zuckerberg | Instagram
Whistleblower(s)…. Plural

Since the Facebook outage on October 4th which left Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger down for almost six hours, Facebook has been the topic of conversation. The main discussion began that Sunday when a “60 Minutes” aired a segment in which Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen claimed the company is aware of how its platforms are used to spread hate, violence, and misinformation, and that Facebook has tried to hide that evidence. Three days later, all Facebook apps are down sending Facebook shares down 4.8% while declining Zuckerberg’s fortune by $5.9 billion to a mere $117 billion in total. Since then, Haugen has now testified before the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, but another whistleblower has now risen to defend that same case. 

The First Whistleblower: Who is Frances Haugen?

Frances Haugen made an impressive case during her testimony on Capitol Hill. Haugen’s lawyers have filed eight complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission focused on Facebook’s public statements about issues including what Facebook knew about how organizers of the Jan. 6 Capitol siege used its platform; how unactive Facebook is as removing hate speech; and how Instagram makes body image issues worse.

Haugen worked at Facebook for nearly two years after stints at Google, Yelp, and Pinterest. At Facebook, she studied how the social network’s algorithm amplified misinformation and was exploited by foreign adversaries. Haugen has leaked one Facebook study that found that 13.5% of U.K. teen girls in one survey say their suicidal thoughts became more frequent after starting on Instagram while another leaked study found 17% of teen girls say their eating disorders got worse after using Instagram.

According to Haugen’s legal team, Facebook executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, misstated and omitted key details about what was known about Facebook and Instagram’s ability to cause harm and that Facebook under-resourced teams and tools that were looking for abuse in languages other than English. 

In response, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a statement last week saying Haugen’s characterization of the company was a “false picture.”

The Second Whistleblower: Who Is Sophie Zhang?

If one whistleblower testifying against Facebook isn’t enough drama, two of them will definitely up the tension for the Facebook legal team. Sophie Zhang took to Twitter with her outrage on October 10th, but in reality, she’s been fighting against Facebook for a year now.

Zhang said on Twitter on Sunday that she had provided a US law-enforcement agency with “detailed documentation regarding potential criminal violations.” When asked by CNN, Zhang did not say which agency she gave documents to. An FBI spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by CNN.

Zhang, who worked as a data scientist at the tech giant for almost three years, wrote a 7,800-word memo when she was fired by Facebook in September of 2020 detailing how she believed the company was not doing enough to tackle hate and misinformation in smaller and developing countries. The memo was first reported last year by BuzzFeed News and later formed the basis of a series of reports by The Guardian newspaper. Zhang said the company told her she was fired because of performance issues.

“If Congress wishes for me to testify, I will fulfill my civic duty, as I’ve publicly stated for the past half year,” Zhang said in a tweet. “Last year, I testified privately before a European Parliamentary committee though I was avoiding the press. My duty to democracy comes first.”

Zhang went on to say that she was also willing to testify publicly before the parliament of any other democratic nation. Whether that is the UK Parliament, the Indian Lok Sabha, or even the Armenian National Assembly.

These are obviously serious allegations against Facebook, and these two women are just as serious about making them known and tearing it down. It looks like a rocky road ahead for Facebook, but this is an open investigation, and updates are still to come.