Could Facebook sue whistleblower Frances Haugen?

Facebook has recently taken a harsher tone toward whistleblower Frances Haugen. (AFP)
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Updated 10 October 2021

Could Facebook sue whistleblower Frances Haugen?

  • Facebook still has to walk a fine line

WASHINGTON: Facebook has recently taken a harsher tone toward whistleblower Frances Haugen, suggesting that the social network could be considering legal retaliation after Haugen went public with internal research that she copied before leaving her job earlier this year.
US law protects whistleblowers who disclose information about potential misconduct to the government. But that protection doesn’t necessarily cover taking corporate secrets to the media.
Facebook still has to walk a fine line. The company has to weigh whether suing Haugen, which could dissuade other employees who might otherwise speak out, is worth casting itself as a legal Godzilla willing to stomp on a woman who says she’s just doing the right thing.
Haugen may face other consequences. Whistleblowers often put themselves at risk of professional damage — other firms may be reluctant to hire them in the future — and personal attacks from being in the public eye.
Facebook did not respond to emailed questions.
What did Haugen do?
Haugen secretly copied a trove of internal Facebook documents before leaving the company and subsequently had her lawyers file complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that Facebook hides what it knows about the negative effects of its platform.
John Tye, her lawyer, said the team gave redacted documents to Congress, where Haugen testified on Tuesday, and also informed officials in California. Haugen also shared documents with the Wall Street Journal, which she started talking to in December, leading to a series of explosive stories that began in mid-September.
What was Facebook's response?
The company says it has been mischaracterized. “I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote to employees on Tuesday.
Some company officials have also begun using harsher language to describe Haugen’s actions that could be interpreted as threatening.
In an Associated Press interview Thursday, Facebook executive Monika Bickert repeatedly referred to the documents Haugen copied as “stolen,” a word she has also used in other media interviews. David Colapinto, a lawyer for Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto who specializes in whistleblower cases, said that language was threatening.
In the same interview, asked if Facebook would sue or retaliate against the whistleblower, Bickert said only, “I can’t answer that.”
A week earlier, Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of global safety, testified in the Senate that Facebook “would never retaliate against someone for speaking to Congress,” which left open the possibility that the company might go after her for giving documents to the Journal.
Is Haugen protected?
Various laws offer whistleblower protection at both the state and federal levels. The federal laws applicable to Haugen are the Dodd-Frank Act, a 2010 Wall Street reform law, and the Sarbanes Oxley Act, a 2002 law that followed the collapse of Enron and other accounting scandals.
Dodd-Frank expanded protections for whistleblowers and empowered the SEC to take action against a company that threatens a whistleblower. Protections exist for both employees and former employees, experts say.
Asked about her risk because she went to the media, Haugen’s lawyer, Tye, maintains that because Haugen went to the SEC, Congress and state authorities, she’s entitled to whistleblower protections. He said any suit from Facebook would be “frivolous” and that Facebook has not been in touch.
What about her leaks to the media?
Courts haven’t tested whether leaking to the media is protected under Dodd-Frank, but Colapinto said the US Secretary of Labor determined decades ago that environmental and nuclear-safety whistleblowers’ communications with the media were protected. He argues that the language of Sarbanes-Oxley is modeled on those earlier statutes, and Haugen should have the same protections for any of her communications with reporters.
Facebook could allege that Haugen broke her nondisclosure agreement by sharing company documents with the press, leaking trade secrets or just by making comments Facebook considers defamatory, said Lisa Banks of Katz, Marshall and Banks, who has worked on whistleblower cases for decades. “Like many whistleblowers, she’s extraordinarily brave and puts herself at personal and professional risk in shining a light on these practices,” she said.
Haugen effectively used leaks to the media to turn up the pressure on Congress and government regulators. Colapinto said her disclosures had a public-interest purpose that could complicate enforcing the NDA if Facebook chose to do so.
Could Facebook face blowback?
Facebook probably wants its veiled threats to unnerve other employees or former employees who might be tempted to speak out. “If they go after her, it won’t be because they necessarily think they have a strong case legally, but sending a message to other would-be whistleblowers that they intend to play hardball,” Banks said.
But she said it would be a “disaster” for Facebook to go after Haugen. Regardless of potential legal vulnerabilities, Facebook might look like a bully if it pursued a legal case against her.
“The last thing Facebook needs is to rouse the ire of governmental authorities and the public at large by playing the role of the big bad giant company against the courageous individual whistleblower,” said Neil Getnick, whose firm, Getnick and Getnick, represents whistleblowers.


Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland

Updated 20 January 2022

Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland

  • The network used fake accounts to pose as locals in England and Scotland
  • The accounts posted commentary about Scottish independence and organized their content around common hashtags promoting the cause

DUBAI: Facebook parent Meta Platforms removed a network of fake accounts that originated in Iran and targeted Instagram users in Scotland with content supporting Scottish independence, the company’s investigators said on Thursday.
The network used fake accounts to pose as locals in England and Scotland, posting photos and memes about current events and criticism of the United Kingdom’s government, Meta said.
The accounts posted commentary about Scottish independence and organized their content around common hashtags promoting the cause, though they at times misspelled them, the company said. The accounts also posted about football and UK cities, likely to make the fictitious personas seem more authentic.
The network used photos of media personalities and celebrities from the UK and Iran as well as profile pictures likely created through AI techniques, Meta said.
In a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, Scots voted 55 percent-45 percent to remain in the United Kingdom, but both Brexit and the British government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis have bolstered support for independence among Scots and demands for a second vote.
Meta said its investigation found links to individuals in Iraq, including people with a background in teaching English as a foreign language.
It said the operation had some connections with a small Iran-based network it previously removed in December 2020, which mostly targeted Arabic, French and English-speaking audiences using fake accounts, but did not provide further details on who might be behind the activity.
“We’ve seen a range of operations coming from Iran over the last few years,” said Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead for influence operations, in a press briefing. “It’s not a monolithic environment.”
The social media company said it had removed eight Facebook accounts and 126 Instagram accounts as part of this network in December for violating its rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior.


German journalist acquitted of terror charges in Turkey

Updated 18 January 2022

German journalist acquitted of terror charges in Turkey

  • Mesale Tolu was accused of engaging in terror propaganda and being a member of a banned left-wing group
  • Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey at 153 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index of 2021

ISTANBUL: A Turkish court has acquitted German journalist Mesale Tolu after years on trial for terror-related charges.
“After 4 years, 8 months and 20 days: Acquitted of both charges!” Tolu tweeted after her acquittal. She was accused of engaging in terror propaganda and being a member of a banned left-wing group — the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party.
Tolu, 38, was placed in pre-trial detention for eight months in 2017. She was later released but was barred from leaving Turkey until August 2018. She lives in Germany.
Before her arrest, Tolu worked as a translator and journalist for the Turkish ETHA news agency.
German-Turkish relations were tense at the time of Tolu’s arrest, when eight other German or German-Turkish citizens were imprisoned. Berlin considered the arrests to be politically motivated.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey at 153 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index of 2021. At least 34 media employees are currently behind bars, according to Turkey’s Journalists Union.


Russia demands Facebook unblock foreign ministry-linked page

Updated 17 January 2022

Russia demands Facebook unblock foreign ministry-linked page

  • Russia demanded that Facebook immediately lift all restrictions on the official page of Russian foreign ministry
  • The block was instigated on Friday for publishing “illegal content”
MOSCOW: Russia’s media regulator has demanded that Facebook “immediately” lift all restrictions on the official page of the country’s delegation for arms control talks in Vienna.
The Facebook page, which is affiliated to Russia’s foreign ministry, was taken down on Friday for publishing “illegal content,” according to delegation head Konstantin Gavrilov.
Media watchdog Roskomnadzor said Sunday evening that it has sent a letter to Meta, Facebook’s parent company, “with the demand to immediately lift all restrictions” from the Facebook page and “explain the reasons for introducing them.”
“Such actions of the administration of the Facebook social network violate the key principles of free distribution of information,” Roskomnadzor said.
The regulator added that it considers this an “act of censorship.”
The page was still unavailable on Monday morning.
Gavrilov told state news agency TASS on Sunday that the delegation uses the Facebook page to post statements from Russia’s leadership or the foreign ministry.
“This is a blatant act of censorship in the information space,” Gavrilov said in a statement on Twitter, requesting support from the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In February 2021, the delegation’s account on Twitter had also been temporarily blocked, TASS reported.
Russia has repeatedly fined US tech giants, including Meta, for ignoring content moderation requests as the country ramps up its control of Internet platforms.
In December, Meta was slapped with its largest fine yet — the equivalent of $27 million — for repeatedly failing to delete illegal content.

Gaza TV studio produces Hamas response to Israeli hit shows

Updated 17 January 2022

Gaza TV studio produces Hamas response to Israeli hit shows

  • “We want to flip the equation, to show the Palestinian point of view," says Gaza director Mohammed Soraya

GAZA CITY: In a Gaza TV studio of the ruling Islamist armed movement Hamas, a set features Israeli flags, Hebrew documents and a portrait of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism.
The make-believe office of enemy state Israel’s security service is being used to shoot a “pro-resistance” television series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is Hamas’s answer to Israeli hit shows such as the special forces drama “Fauda” that have gained millions of viewers on platforms such as Netflix, HBO and Apple TV+.
“Fauda,” which in Arabic means chaos, portrays a military unit led by commander Doron Kavillio that launches raids inside Palestinian territories.

A portrait of the founder of of modern political Zionism Theodor Hertzl hangs on the set as Palestinian actors and crew shoot a scene of "Qabdat al-Ahrar" in Gaza city on Jan. 10, 2022. (Photo by Mahmud Hams / AFP)

Admitting to having watched “Fauda,” though, is not a good idea in Gaza, the Palestinian coastal enclave blockaded by Israel, said local director Mohammed Soraya.
To watch any Israeli TV series means supporting the “normalization” of relations with the Jewish state, argued Soraya, who is directing Hamas’s own TV series on the conflict.
He charged that such shows “support the Zionist occupation” because their plots “criminalize the Palestinian people,” speaking with AFP in the Gaza City studio.
“We want to flip the equation, to show the Palestinian point of view, to broadcast a drama about the spirit of our resistance.”
Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union. The Islamist group controls the Gaza Strip, an impoverished territory of 2.3 million people.
It also runs the Al-Aqsa channel, and has been investing in series inspired by Hollywood, and by Turkish soap operas that are popular across the Middle East.
The series now in production, “Qabdat Al-Ahrar” (Fist of the Free), revisits a 2018 Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip that resulted in the deaths of seven Hamas fighters and an Israeli officer.
The protagonists are the fighters of Hamas, which has fought four wars against the Jewish state since 2008.

Unlike Israeli series that often feature actors from the country’s Arab-Israeli minority, productions in Gaza do not use any Israeli actors. (Photo by Mahmud Hams / AFP)

Budgets are meagre, actors’ salaries are low, sets are basic and deadlines are tight, with the production team expected to deliver some 30 episodes by April, in time for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
While Israeli series often feature actors from the country’s Arab-Israeli minority, productions in Gaza do not use any Israeli actors.
This forces studios to recruit local actors to play Israelis — a job that, the performers say, can expose them to real-world hostility and danger.
One of them is Jawad Harouda, aged in his early sixties and with a husky voice, who portrays the head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service in the new TV series.
To get into character, Harouda said he “soaked up the script,” but added that being too convincing can lead to trouble.
“Some women look at me and pray that I die,” he said, leaning back in his boss’s chair in the fake Shin Bet office.
“I’m happy when people insult me. It means I’ve succeeded ... The actor is a chameleon, he must be able to act out all colors.”
In Gaza productions, Israeli characters speak in Arabic. And, at the request of the Hamas mufti, or Islamic jurist, women wear their headscarves even if they play Jewish characters.

Palestinian women actors have to wear the hijab even if they are playing the part of Israeli women in the film. (Photo by Mahmud Hams / AFP)


“In one series, I played a Jewish woman,” said one actress, Kamila Fadel, who added that she may have been just a little too convincing for her own good.

“After the series was broadcast, a woman tried to strangle me,” she recounted.
“She told me: ‘I hate you, you are hurting us so much’. On another day a 13-year-old boy threw a stone at my head thinking I was Jewish... This means I played my part well.”
Not everyone is a fan of the Hamas productions, which are firmly focused on the conflict.
“There is no love” in the dramas, argued Palestinian director and critic Jamal Abu Alqumsan, who expressed regret that the rare local productions served primarily as a “tool of resistance.”
Abu Alqumsan said the potential for such productions to tell Palestinians’ stories was huge, but the challenges were many.
“In Gaza, we live under a blockade, it’s a unique situation in the world,” he said, speaking in his art gallery, which he hopes to turn into a small film library.
“So we need producers to invest in quality series and tell the rest of the world our story. We have good actors, they just need good directors and means.”
For now, Abu Alqumsan said he was unsure of the impact such shows would have.
“TV dramas are a weapon, but in the face of Israel, local productions are of a low level,” he said.


UK government to cut funding for BBC: Mail on Sunday report

Updated 16 January 2022

UK government to cut funding for BBC: Mail on Sunday report

  • Freezing license cost at its current £159 would provide some relief to consumers battling rising costs of living
  • But it would also be a large blow to the BBC’s finances as it tries to compete with privately funded news outlets

LONDON: Britain’s government will cut the BBC’s funding by ordering a two-year freeze on the fee that people pay to watch the broadcaster, the Mail on Sunday reported.
The future of the license-payer funded British Broadcasting Corporation is a perpetual topic of political debate, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government most recently suggesting its funding needs to be reformed.
Set against an inflation rate expected to reach a 30-year high of 6 percent or more in April, freezing the license cost at its current 159 pounds ($217.40) would provide some relief to consumers battling sharply rising costs of living.
But it would also be a large blow to the BBC’s finances as it tries to compete with privately funded news outlets and the likes of Netflix and other entertainment streaming services funded by consumer subscriptions.
In November, the government launched negotiations to agree how much the TV license would cost, part of a five year funding settlement due to begin in April 2022.
The Digital, Media, Culture and Sport department declined to comment when asked about the Mail on Sunday report.
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said that the license fee settlement would be the last such agreement and tweeted a link to the Mail on Sunday article.
“Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content,” she said on Twitter.
The BBC declined to comment on Dorries’ tweet or the Mail on Sunday report.
The opposition Labour Party said the funding cut was politically motivated.
“The Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary seem hell-bent on attacking this great British institution because they don’t like its journalism,” said Lucy Powell, Labour lawmaker and culture policy chief.
The BBC’s news output is regularly criticized by UK political parties. Its coverage of Brexit issues — central to Johnson’s government — has long been seen as overly critical by supporters of leaving the European Union.
Last week, one Conservative lawmaker said BBC coverage relating to parties in Johnson’s Downing Street residence during coronavirus lockdowns amounted to a “coup attempt” against the prime minister.

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