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.
U.S. 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.
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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.
Whistleblowers like Frances Haugen 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.
What did Haugen do?
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.
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He said any suit from Facebook would be “frivolous” and that Facebook has not been in touch.
What about her leaks to the media?
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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?
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.