How to build a career as a whistleblower, the case of Londons Haugen at Facebook

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Frances Haugen a récolté des milliers de documents internes, qu'elle a ensuite graduellement fait fuiter auprès d'organisations de presse.

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Posted on Nov 3, 2021, 4:49 PMUpdated Nov 3, 2021, 5:12 PM

“I don’t like the attention”, she assured on stage Monday, at the opening in Lisbon of an international technology fair (Web Summit). The engineer has yet passed from shadow to light this fall with the help of communication professionals and investors, to campaign against her former employer, whom she accuses of putting profits before the security of billions. of people who use its services.

Before leaving the company in May, this former member of a team dedicated to civic integrity within the Californian group collected thousands of internal documents, which she then gradually leaked to press organizations. She also handed them over to the country’s securities authority, the SEC.

And she goes from television sets to parliaments, repeating her message at will, for the audience of the American program “60 minutes” in early October, then American senators, British parliamentarians and MEPs in Brussels.

“This is clearly not a David v Goliath situation. She is very organized and in a position of power, notes Vigjilenca Abazi, a researcher from the NGO Government Accountability Project. She is someone very comfortable with the media, able to tell her story in a very convincing way, which makes her more likable (than other whistleblowers).

Allies and strategies

Unlike Julian Assange (founder of WikiLeaks in prison in London), Chelsea Manning (informant of WikiLeaks incarcerated for seven years), Edward Snowden (revelations on the American secret service) or Christopher Wylie (Cambridge Analytica / Facebook), Londons Haugen s’ is quickly very well surrounded before launching into the battle.

It is notably supported by Luminate, the philanthropic organization founded by Pierre Omidyar, the Franco-American billionaire who created the eBay site and helped other whistleblowers and journalists. “We participate in the costs of transport, logistics and communication of the team of Londons”, Luminate told AFP for “To promote a large public debate on these subjects”.

In the United States, the 37-year-old woman is notably represented by a former spokesperson for Barack Obama, Bill Burton, who also works for the NGO Center for Humane technology. And it is legally supported by the NGO Whistleblower Aid.

“We had weeks, months of conversation about his reasons for acting […] and on its documents, told in Lisbon Libby Liu, the boss of the NGO. Then she decided to keep us “.

Financially, Londons Haugen seems immune to want thanks to investments in cryptocurrencies made “at the right time”, according to an interview with the New York Times published in late October. She also moved to Puerto Rico, where the taxation is advantageous. “Its story goes in a very different direction from that of the whistleblowers, who generally face difficult and painful consequences”, notes Vigjilenca Abazi.

” Career choice “

It also takes less risk by attacking a company largely discredited in the eyes of politicians than if it attacked the government, adds the academic. “For her, it looks more like a career choice. There is a lot of hate against Facebook right now, and she is playing it. “

Since September, the thousands of documents leaked to the press have galvanized elected officials already raised against the social media giant, accused of not taking enough action against problems – data privacy, disinformation, illegal trafficking, addiction, online harassment – including however, its leaders are perfectly aware, according to internal research.

The humble and determined-looking blonde engineer has provided “ammunition” to those pushing for reform, but her revelations are hardly a big deal. “Irrefutable and undeniable evidence that would call everything into question”, analyzes Daniel Castro, a specialist in digital platforms.

“Is she a real whistleblower?” I would say no. But I think she is a very effective activist ”, summarizes the vice-president of the think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, partly financed by the big technological companies.

But Meta – the new name of the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, etc. – is not at its first crisis. So not sure that the new public enemy number 1 of the platform achieves its goal: to reform the company which has recovered from the revelation of many more serious scandals, at the cost of a few apologies and fines.


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