Twitter, Meta, and Blowing the Whistle on Big Tech

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hello people We won’t have Fauci to kick around much longer. But we will always have Covid.

The Flat View

In late 1969, Daniel Ellsberg made a bold and consequential decision. As an employee of the RAND Corporation, a US government contractor, he had access to classified documents that contradicted promises by senior officials that the Vietnam War could be won. He secretly copied the documents and over the next year tried to make them public, first through Congress, then through the press. In June 1971, The News from New York published the first in a series of articles on what would become known as the Pentagon Papers. The government sued to suppress them, and while the case was going through the courts, Ellsberg leaked the papers to The Washington Post. At the time, the FBI was pursuing him, although he had not publicly admitted his role as a whistleblower. He came clean just before the Supreme Court allowed it time to continue publishing on June 30. Ellsberg was arrested and tried for robbery and conspiracy, and was released only because of government misconduct.

Earlier this year, Peiter “Mudge” Zatko made a decision of his own. A security expert handpicked by then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in November 2020 to address the company’s chronic failures was fired last January after clashes with current CEO Parag Agrawal. Zatko believed that Twitter management was not taking steps to fix its security problems, and that Agrawal was lying about these deficiencies to the board of directors, shareholders and regulators. Like Ellsberg, he decided to go public. Unlike Ellsberg, Zatko was able to use the services of a non-profit organization, Whistleblower Aid, created specifically to help people like him and keep them out of legal trouble. After meeting him in March, a co-founder of the nonprofit, John Tye, agreed to work with Zatko.

Zatko and his managers strategized and launched a coordinated campaign to expose Twitter’s alleged violations. They used an entire rack of Scrabble tiles to file agency complaints…SEC, FTC, DOJ. Zatko met with staff from several congressional committees and is scheduled to testify. More dramatically, he and his team made news by orchestrating a leak of their complaints from one of the congressional committees. The recipients were The Washington Post and CNN, and their stories were published under a shared embargo on August 23. Zatko gave interviews to both organizations, which treated him with love. The publication The photographer even captured an artistic shot of Zatko and her reflection in the mirror, full of oracle vibes. (Instead, Agrawal was photographed sadly wandering the grounds of an unnamed conference in a dark hoodie.)

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because last year another whistleblower, former Meta program director Frances Haugen, had a similar launch of she allegations, complete with agency and congressional briefings and glam footage on 60 Minutes and The Wall Street Journal. And of course the redacted documents were leaked just in time by a congressional friend. It is no coincidence that his reporting Sherpa was the same as Zatko’s, John Tye.

Whistleblowers have been around for as long as institutional malfeasance has existed, but it has become a trend in technology. In part, this is due to recent laws that give whistleblower protections in certain cases, especially when it comes to reporting corporate fraud to the SEC. But the phenomenon also reflects a workforce fed up with employers who have seemingly abandoned their once idealistic principles. “Whistleblowing is a growing industry,” says Tye, who once whistleblowered the NSA before co-founding his organization.

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