Technology

Facebook whistleblower alleges company misled investors on climate, COVID-19 misinformation: report

Associated Press/Tony Avelar

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen reportedly filed two new complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) arguing the tech giant misled investors about its efforts to mitigate the spread of misinformation on climate change and COVID-19. 

The allegations build on Haugen’s broader efforts to raise the alarm about her former employer through SEC complaints. The first round of complaints against Facebook were filed in October. 

The new complaints were filed by Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit representing Haugen, this month, The Washington Post reported. 

The complaints allege Facebook, now under its parent company Meta, made “material misrepresentations and omissions in statements to investors” about efforts to combat misinformation, the Post reported, citing redacted copies of the documents. 

Despite Facebook’s public commitments to fight climate misinformation on earnings calls with reporters, one complaint alleges the content was prominently available on Facebook and that the platform lacked a clear policy on the issue as recently as last year, according to the Post. 

The other complaint alleges that Facebook’s internal documents “paint a different story” on efforts to combat misinformation about COVID-19, despite the company and executives’ public statements pledging to remove the harmful, false information, the Post reported. 

Meta spokesperson Drew Pusateri touted Facebook’s policies about misinformation on COVID-19 and climate to The Hill, including removing “false claims about vaccines” and directing users to “authoritative” information centers about both topics. 

“There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to stopping the spread of misinformation, but we’re committed to building new tools and policies to combat it,” Pusateri said in a statement to The Hill. 

Democrats and advocates have long criticized Facebook over the spread of misinformation, specifically on climate change and COVID-19. 

But the latest allegations brought by Haugen revive questions about the company and its efforts to combat misinformation following the 2020 election, the pandemic and warnings about the climate crisis.   

For example, the complaint about climate misinformation cites an employee on Facebook’s integrity team who called for the company to “take it a step farther and start classifying and removing climate misinformation and hoaxes from our platforms,” the Post reported. 

It also cites internal records about the Climate Science Information Center, which Pusateri touted in his statement, that indicate awareness of the webpage was “very low” even for users who had visited it, according to the Post. 

The complaint targeting COVID-19 misinformation cites an internal Facebook survey which found 1 in 3 people in the U.S. said they saw misleading or false information related to COVID-19 and voting, the Post reported. 

The SEC has not publicly commented on the complaints. Since Haugen first came forward, she has testified before Congress and lawmakers abroad multiple times, adding fuel to the growing pushback against the Silicon Valley giant.

Tags Climate change climate misinformation COVID-19 misinformation Facebook Frances Haugen META misinformation The Washington Post

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