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Facebook ‘whistleblower’ is a government Trojan HorseFacebook ‘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.

Scott Bicheno

October 26, 2021

3 Min Read
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.

View post on Twitter

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.

About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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