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Facebook ‘whistleblower’ is a government Trojan Horse

As Frances Haugen’s tour hits the UK it seems clear her main aim is to help pressure Facebook into giving governments greater control over the company.

For all the breathless coverage of Haugen’s testimony to a UK Parliamentary Committee devoted to increasing government censorship of the internet, she added little to her first carefully choreographed crusade. There were mainly the familiar infantile allegations that Facebook, apparently uniquely among commercial organizations, prioritizes profitability above all else.

The BBC, which telegraphs its editorial bias on this matter by employing a ‘disinformation and social media reporter’, chose the vague and unprovable claim that Facebook is responsible for ‘making hate worse’ to headline its report on Haugen’s testimony. Her suggested solution – presumably to make hate better – is, of course, greater government control, which conveniently is exactly what the committee that invited her to testify seeks to legislate.

One extra twist to the established narrative came from a Telegraph report headlined ‘Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen warns company’s encryption will aid espionage by hostile nations’, which it derived from an interview with her. The story is paywalled, but TechCrunch reported on it and on Haugen’s subsequent objections to some of its contents.

It seems the Telegraph framed some of the interview as an attack on end-to-end encryption but Haugen’s position seems to be more nuanced than that. Apparently taken aback to encounter media that didn’t unconditionally accept everything she says as gospel truth, Haugen used some of her Parliamentary testimony to push back on the Telegraph story and stress that she’s fine with encryption, so long as it’s the type she approves of.

One of the main reasons, presumably, Haugen was so keen to correct the record on this matter is that encryption is a key tool for whistleblowers, one of which she claims to be. It would, therefore, be the height of hypocrisy for her to lobby against it now that she has the protection and blessing of governments around the world for whom her testimony is politically useful.

“It would have been impossible for me to whistleblow without encryption,” said Edward Snowden, the source of leaks that revealed widespread spying on its own population by US security agencies. “My first messages to journalists were made with encryption and without secure end-to-end encryption it is impossible to see how brave investigative journalism could happen at all.”

It’s worth noting once more that Snowden remains in exile in Russia for his whistleblowing, while Haugen has the red carpet rolled out for her at every state organizations she chooses to grace with her presence. Can it be a coincidence that Snowden’s leaks were embarrassing to the US government while Haugen’s are helpful?

The journalist Snowden contacted through encrypted channels was Glenn Greenwald, who continues to make it clear what he thinks is really going on here. In the tweet below he refers to a piece in Reason, which concludes there is little of significance in Haugen’s leaks and reflects on the irony of media decrying Facebook’s obedience when faced by local censorship laws while at the same time calling for an increase in those same powers in the US.

Safety and freedom tend to exist on a continuum in which an increase in one must necessarily lead to a decrease in the other. Of course we need some safeguards online, especially to protect children, but every attempt to increase them must be weighed against the resulting reduction in freedom. Haugen’s flavour of benign authoritarianism is a perfect fit for governments everywhere, while Snowden’s calls for less state intrusion in people’s private lives is kryptonite.

In the US, her revelations play neatly into the US government’s strategy of using the ‘insurrection’ at the start of the year (for which not a single charge of insurrection has resulted) as a pretext for greater state powers. In the UK Haugen may well be all that is needed to push the Online Safety Bill through Parliament with negligible opposition. Don’t be surprised to see more supposed whistleblowers emerge from other internet companies governments seek to control.


21 comments

  1. Avatar Tim Lynch 26/10/2021 @ 4:05 pm

    This is a very unbalanced article and offers a false equivalence between state spying on its citizens and a private monopoly behaving in an egregious manner -both action which are of course totally unacceptable. Haugen’s key testimony is of top FB management overriding its own repeated internal advice and turning up/down the “hate” volume algorithms in pursuit of profit, collaterally assisting Trump/anti-vaxers etc. FB also ignored its own advice re. extreme harm being caused to young women on insta. by bodyshaming. We already have testimony from Philippine Noble Laureate Maria Ressa, that FB ignored pleas to prevent it being used to target victims of assassination by pro-Duterte murder gangs.
    Also, the downplaying of an armed mob attack on a seat of Government while it was in session is shocking and astounding.
    Finally, Haugen (notwithstanding her personal views on encryption which are beside the point) is not on “tour” She was invited to appear before a U.K. Parliamentary Committee, an invitation which Zurkerberg declined.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 26/10/2021 @ 4:08 pm

      There are so many straw men and red herrings in this that I can only assume you mistakenly commented on the wrong story.

  2. Avatar Dan Pitt 26/10/2021 @ 4:31 pm

    What, so Telecoms.com is now buying into conspiracy theories about overreaching government control? This story is not about Joe Biden or the Democrats seeking control of anything. It’s about addressing the damage Facebook has done to our fair elections and indeed to our democracy itself. I am appalled by the lack of social conscience at Facebook. The top leadership is completely tone deaf. I thought companies felt an obligation to be good community citizens, while making a profit. Most companies do. Facebook has become an unfortunate exception.

    Telecoms.com has been #4 on my priority list of reliable sources of information on our field. Perhaps I am fine with just #1-3.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 26/10/2021 @ 4:48 pm

      “I thought companies felt an obligation to be good community citizens,” LOL

      I don’t agree and if you want to restrict yourself to writers that do then so be it.

      Also, only #4?

  3. Avatar Bill Cash 26/10/2021 @ 5:06 pm

    Taking back control?

  4. Avatar Believer in science and corporate responisbility 26/10/2021 @ 5:24 pm

    Are you an anti-vaxxer as well, Mr. Bicheno? Perhaps you could get a job with Fox News.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 26/10/2021 @ 5:25 pm

      If the money’s right…

  5. Avatar Believer in science and corporate responsibility 26/10/2021 @ 5:40 pm

    Now who’s the corporate shill? This isn’t news, it’s speculation and conspiracy theories. You’re really getting out there, Mr. Bicheno. Your readers deserve better.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 26/10/2021 @ 5:42 pm

      They love it.

  6. Avatar Sunil Sivanand 26/10/2021 @ 7:14 pm

    Facebook is a hosting platform for messages and opinions. The allegation is that FB does not filter our fake news and messages promoting violence while prioritizing content, to maximize their advertising revenue. I wonder why the same is not a worry about news outlets like Fox, OAN, and NewsMax? There the fake news and violence is promoted by paid news anchors! Why are they not being censored?

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 26/10/2021 @ 8:18 pm

      Or, indeed, CNN, MSNBC, NYT, etc.

  7. Avatar Kai 27/10/2021 @ 3:21 pm

    I have enjoyed receiving / reading telecoms.com articles until this point. This piece is unbalanced and sensationalist – it has confused me about tcoms.com editorial. Articles to date have been tongue-in-cheek while also insightful; this article is a format departure… and not a good one.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 27/10/2021 @ 3:48 pm

      Thanks for your feedback. Interesting to see where the line in the sand is for some.

  8. Avatar S.W.I.M. 27/10/2021 @ 11:08 pm

    I don’t know what’s worse to assume reading over these feedback comments, are these Ops (state and/or corp) , trolls, or do people not understand what your article is explaining?
    From US and never been/heard of this site or news, but 2nd page google on this lady and first article mentioning her “rollout”…

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 28/10/2021 @ 9:15 am

      I think your second paragraph might provide some kind of answer. Some people find narratives that go against the prevailing one painful to hear.

  9. Avatar SWIM 28/10/2021 @ 2:00 am

    I hope these comments are Gov/FB employees. I don’t know the views of your avg readers, but I wish they could understand this lady at best, is doing a ‘roll out’ for her next project (more likely a state operative).

  10. Avatar JamesF 03/11/2021 @ 1:11 am

    Another badly titled article. Seriously, telecom.com needs to improve the quality of its articles. Was she planted in Facebook by the government? If not, why label her a Trojan horse?

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 03/11/2021 @ 8:48 am

      Explained in the piece. Another reader confusing quality with ‘I don’t like what was written’.

  11. Avatar JamesF 04/11/2021 @ 1:41 am

    This is not the way to respond to criticisms. I have noted similar responses/attitude to others’ comments. The right way to respond is to address commenters’ feedback professionally. It reflects badly on this web-site.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 04/11/2021 @ 9:05 am

      Thanks for the top tip James. When people comment professionally, free from rhetorical fallacies, I respond in kind.

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