It is hard to be a whistleblower. Although it is easier in Canada than the U.S., anyone who reports their company for bad practices usually risks their job, or at the least a future promotion. The latest news about Facebook came from an employee who claims Facebook “stokes online hate and extremism” and “fails to protect children from harmful content.”
In reply to the follow-up response by Zuckerberg, the whistleblower argues the need for algorithmic regulation, research transparency, and independent oversight to be entirely valid for debate. A whistleblower must consider how important the revelation is to the public and to the company, and ethics requires that they take action if it is required.
That action does not have to be public sharing of private company information; at least not at first. Depending on an employee’s position and the kind of information, there may be internal methods to escalate the action required. If the whistleblower does not think their boss will take action on the issue, the employee can find other managers or other departments that might instigate some changes. Often when this has been done, somehow the corrections get “stalled” or delayed indefinitely. When a company has systemic issues, there are usually informal systems in place that prevent action to clean things up. That is when a whistleblower is required.
A whistleblower must be someone who is truly just trying to make things better. If there are other motivations, the courts do not appreciate or support the employee’s cause. The company is often better for the cleanup, and the public is protected from business or government that is not being transparent or fair.
CIPS (the IT professional association designated by Canadian law) has a code of ethics that requires IT professionals to protect the public – meaning that we have an obligation to speak up. We are often the only ones that know about the inner workings of complex systems, such as Facebook. As more and more algorithms are created to make decisions, we must become guardians of the trusting people online. Kudos to Frances Haugen for her work, and for her example to us all.