Haugen’s efforts to hold Meta accountable escalated by way of a new pair of whistleblower complaints filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week reportedly accusing the company of misleading investors about climate change and covid-19 misinformation on its platforms. The documents were filed by Frances Haugen backer Whistleblower Aid and viewed by the Washington Post.
Among the claims, the complaints reportedly accuse Meta of letting climate change misinformation run rampant on its platforms without any coherent policy on the issue until last year. That’s despite deploying lofty language at the executive level supposedly exalting the company’s commitment to the issue.
Internal documents reportedly show disagreement between employees over the company’s handling of climate misinformation, with a search integrity employee reportedly calling the company to classify and remove more misinformation from the platform, actions the company has largely tried to avoid so far. For some extra context, a report released last year by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found just 10 Facebook publishers were responsible for around 70% of climate denial content on the platform.
A separate complaint meanwhile took issue with Meta’s handling of covid-19 misinformation and claimed internal Meta communication showed a greater spread of potentially harmful content than was publicly expressed by company executives. According to an internal survey reportedly cited in the complaint, around one out of three U.S. users reported seeing misleading content regarding the virus and voting.
Meta publicly stepped up its efforts to address covid misinformation late last year after reports emerged showing it had fumbled its fight against anti-vaxxers. At one point, last summer, U.S. President Joe Biden even went as far as to accuse Facebook misinformation of killing people, before partly walking that back.
“The documents shared with the SEC make it totally clear that Facebook was saying one thing in private and another in public regarding its approach to climate change and COVID-19 misinformation,” Andrew Bakaj, Senior Counsel at Whistleblower Aid told Gizmodo in an email. “That’s not just irresponsible to the public, it’s actively misleading investors who have a legal right to truthful answers from the company.”
Meta did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
At this point, everybody knows the big blue Facebook app is a bastion for batshit ideas and dishonest narratives, but so far the company has largely avoided having to take truly meaningful or costly action thanks to First Amendment protections. These SEC complaints, the Post notes, approach the accountability issue from an alternative perspective, opting to address investors rather than the public writ large.
“Some investors simply will not want to invest in a company that fails to adequately address such misinformation and then engages in misstatements and omissions on the topic,” one of the complaints said, according to The Post. The complaints reportedly draw on and cite confidential documents obtained by Haugen before she left Facebook.
The new SEC complaints build off of eight separate complaints previously filed by Haugen and Whistleblower Aid. Those accused the company, then called Facebook, of “material misrepresentations and omissions in statements to investors,” which allegedly amount to violations of securities laws. Among other claims, those previous complaints alleged Instagram knew its platform was used to “promote human trafficking,” and that Facebook failed to deploy internationally recommended countermeasures against voter fraud conspiracy theories.
Update 12:00 p.m. ET: Added comment from Whistleblower Aid.