When US House Representative Jamie Raskin (MA-08) revealed explosive testimony from a Twitter employee during a nationally televised hearing of the January 6th Select Committee in July, he safely guarded her identity. Last week, after approval from her and her lawyer, he identified her as Anika Navaroli, the latest Big Tech whistleblower to work with the US Congress to defend democracy.
While some whistleblowers go directly to the press or a regulator, some opt to also work with Congress to hold people and companies accountable for wrongdoing. This route has the added incentive of potentially providing an extra layer of protection for the whistleblower.
Drawing upon years of experience and existing resources, The Signals Network has developed this brief guide to help whistleblowers considering working with Congress. It is not intended to replace specialist advice from lawyers experienced with working with whistleblowers, and specialist organisations, like The Signals Network, that work directly with whistleblowers to ensure they are protected. Hopefully it will prove useful to potential whistleblowers who have witnessed wrongdoing and are considering working with Congress.
Download the “Working with Policymakers as a Whistleblower” guide here.
Some key points include:
- Working with Congress can be complicated. You should consult an experienced attorney and/or whistleblower support organization, like The Signals Network, to guide you in safely and effectively working with Congress.
- Start by assessing the impact of whistleblowing on your life and on those around you. The Signals Network has created this personal assessment to help you evaluate the impact on many aspects of your life. Working with Congress allows you the opportunity to contribute to oversight and legislation. Senators and Members of Congress may also speak out on your behalf to help prevent retaliation.
- Identify the best congressional offices with which to work. Consider offices who have expertise on your topic, who represent your constituency or the constituency of those affected, and/or who are vocal champions of whistleblowers.
- When initially approaching an office, don’t share all of your evidence or even all information. Put together a clear and concise summary of what the wrongdoing is and what your goals are. This helps busy staffers quickly understand the circumstances.
- Be clear with the office if you want to stay anonymous or not. Decide on ground rules early on for how you will work with the office and what they can and can’t say publicly based on your information.
- Congress cannot legally protect you from being sued. Members of Congress can sometimes be helpful in making public and private statements on your behalf in an effort to dissuade the company from pursuing action.
Several recent whistleblowers have worked with Congress, and legislative bodies in other countries, as part of their journeys.
Frances Haugen is probably the most visible whistleblower in the last year. Her disclosure of tens of thousands of documents from Facebook in September of 2021 gained her a hearing with US Congress (several times), the UK Parliament, and the EU Parliament. In her public testimony and in private meetings, she informed policymakers not only about the dangers of social media, but about how tech companies operate and where specific intervention is needed in order to protect users. She also spoke to the need to focus on users outside the US where there is significantly less investment in safety per user and in non-English content moderation. Frances also spoke with civil society groups to help them strengthen their advocacy and became a vocal champion for the EU’s Digital Services Act, the world’s first major legislation regulating the harms of Big Tech companies. By working with legislatures and civil society, she had an impact on concrete regulations.
“Thank you, Ms. Haugen. Thank you for taking that personal risk and we will do anything and everything to protect and stop any retaliation against you and any legal action that the company may bring to bear or anyone else. And we’ve made that I think very clear in the course of these proceedings.”
– Senator Blumenthal during Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony on October 5th, 2021.
Daniel Motaung was a content moderator in Kenya where he worked for a Facbook contractor, Sama AI. His revelations were first reported in a February 2022 TIME cover story on Facebook’s content moderation in East Africa. After speaking out, US Representative Illhan Omar voiced support for Daniel to help protect him from retaliation. Daniel met with Members of Parliament in the UK to discuss how the UK’s Online Safety Bill could better protect content moderators and improve content moderation. The Signals Network also worked with Daniel to advocate for protections for content moderators in the EU’s Digital Services Act.
Peiter “Mudge” Zatko’s revelations in August 2022 shed light on how Twitter, one of the world’s largest and most politically influential platforms, faced intense security challenges. By working with policymakers in private and shedding light on the challenges platforms like Twitter face at a public hearing, Peiter provided policymakers in Congress with additional insight into how they can better regulate and secure crucial online infrastructure.
Sophie Zhang spoke out about how global leaders used Facebook’s platforms to manipulate elections in countries where the company invested less in trust and safety. Her insights into influence campaigns in Honduras, Azerbaijan, India, and other countries were some of the first major whistleblower revelations from Facebook and added urgency to monitoring the company’s impact on elections by regulators and civil society. After her revelations, Sophie testified at the UK Parliament and met with several policymakers. She had a tangible impact on the development of the UK’s Online Safety Bill through her public testimony.
These stories represent a fraction of the public and private communication between whistleblowers and policymakers on an annual basis. If you are considering speaking out and want to see how working with a legislative body could contribute to tangible impact and help protect you, you may find the Congressional resource helpful. Please visit our website to learn more and if you would like support from The Signals Network, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story By Ben Grazda, September 27, 2022 – San Francisco