Another Facebook whistleblower has come forward with allegations against the company, claiming it knowingly allowed hate speech and illegal activity on its platforms, according to a new report.
An anonymous former Facebook employee told the Washington Post that they had submitted a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which handles regulation to protect investors in publicly traded companies.
The fresh claims echo those of the whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook staffer who has said the company repeatedly prioritizes profit over public safety. Haugen’s recent damning testimony before the US Congress, and forthcoming testimony before the UK parliament, has prompted a crisis for the social network, which is said to be readying plans for a rebrand.
The newest whistleblower reportedly worked on Facebook’s integrity team, which is responsible for the platform’s content moderation policies.
In the affidavit, they detailed how Facebook officials frequently declined to enforce safety rules for fear of angering Donald Trump and his allies or offsetting the company’s huge growth.
In one alleged instance, Tucker Bounds, a Facebook communications official, dismissed concerns about the platform’s role in 2016 election manipulation.
“It will be a flash in the pan,” Bounds said, according to the affidavit reported by the Post. “Some legislators will get pissy. And then in a few weeks they will move on to something else. Meanwhile, we are printing money in the basement, and we are fine.”
The details align with what Haugen and others have shared from inside the company, highlighting an overarching attitude of prioritizing profits at all costs.
In a comment to the Post, Bounds said: “Being asked about a purported one-on-one conversation four years ago with a faceless person, with no other sourcing than the empty accusation itself, is a first for me.”
Erin McPike, a Facebook spokeswoman, also criticized the Post’s reporting, saying in a statement to the news organization that it set “a dangerous precedent to hang an entire story on a single source making a wide range of claims without any apparent corroboration”.
“This is beneath the Washington Post, which during the last five years would only report stories after deep reporting with corroborating sources,” she told the Guardian in a statement.
But the reports align with what others have shared about the company. Haugen in her testimony stated that Facebook at one point tweaked its algorithm to improve safety and decrease inflammatory content but abandoned the changes after the election, a decision that Haugen tied directly to the 6 January riot at the Capitol. Facebook also disbanded the civic integrity team after the election.
“As soon as the election was over, they turned them back off or they changed the settings back to what they were before, to prioritize growth over safety. And that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me,” she said in her testimony on 5 October.
Referring to the algorithm change, Haugen added: “Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, and [Facebook] will make less money.”
Haugen’s own SEC filings alleged that Facebook leadership avoided reporting such issues in SEC filings available to investors. The SEC is tasked with scrutinizing whether public firms should disclose such information to investors.
The report comes as Facebook faces pressure from lawmakers on various fronts – including pending legislation from Congress, a lawsuit filed by US attorneys general, and a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit filed by the agency’s new chairwoman, Lina Khan.
Facebook watchdogs say the latest whistleblower accounts of wrongdoing underscore the need to regulate the platform.
“It’s time for Congress and the Biden administration to investigate a Facebook business model that profits from spreading the most extreme hate and disinformation,” said Jessica J González, co-CEO of the civil rights organization Free Press Action. “It’s time for immediate action to hold the company accountable for the many harms it’s inflicted on our democracy.”