TSN discusses how journalists can prepare for A.I. whistleblowers


On Friday, April 19, The Signals Network joined two tech whistleblowers and an investigative reporter at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy for a discussion on how journalists can prepare for A.I. whistleblowers.

The panel included Facebook Files whistleblower Frances Haugen, Time investigative journalist Billy Perrigo. and Theranos whistleblower Tyler Shultz. They were joined by TSN Executive Director Delphine Halgand-Mishra and TSN Legal Director Jennifer Gibson.

“I’m certain that what we will know tomorrow about what’s going on in A.I. [companies] will come from insiders, from whistleblowers,” said Halgand-Mishra, who moderated the panel.

Shultz, who was one of the key whistleblowers who exposed the blood-testing startup company Theranos’ dubious blood-testing practices in 2015 by speaking out to regulators and the press, said whistleblowers will be extremely important when it comes to technologies such as A.I.

“The more advanced technologies become, there almost is greater asymmetry of information between the companies that provide those technologies and whoever is on the other end, the user, the patient,” he said. “In order to expose that asymmetry of information, it takes someone with special knowledge of what’s actually happening on the inside.”

He added that whistleblowers “don’t have to do it alone” because there are whistleblower support channels and organizations to protect people when they expose wrongdoing. He said whistleblowers should actively seek that help.

“I truly wish that The Signals Network existed back then,” he said, referring to when he blew the whistle. “It is extremely helpful to get connected to financial aid or to free legal counsel or to psychological help or to the correct reporters.”

Haugen echoed Shultz, adding that whistleblowers are traumatized by their experience and most journalists are hesitant to reach out to a lawyer because they don’t want an outside party jeopardizing their reporting. That’s why she supports TSN, she said.

“The Signals Network is in a different set of incentives than referring someone to an individual attorney because they don’t work on a contingency basis,” she said. “They’re not in a position of just maximizing the return on investment of that client.”

Haugen blew the whistle to The Wall Street Journal, which in September 2021 published “The Facebook Files,” a collection of bombshell articles alleging that then-Facebook, now Meta, put profits before user safety and had knowingly spread mis- and disinformation.

Perrigo said A.I. whistleblowers are similar to other tech whistleblowers in that they care about the safety of these tech products and disagree with tech CEOs who are pushing them out before they are ready.

“As technologies become more and more complex, that kind of people who have the knowledge gets thinner and thinner,” Perrigo said.

Gibson said journalists should keep in mind that whistleblowers in tech or other industries are almost certainly experiencing some form of trauma. She added that research shows tech workers are increasingly chilled from speaking out against their employers, in part because of worries about increasing surveillance of their activities, including the use of new A.I. technologies.

“They’re not speaking out in the same way they were speaking out a few years ago,” she said. “That’s going to get worse with A.I.”

About TSN

TSN is a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to supporting whistleblowers who risk their livelihoods to share public interest information with the press. Founded in 2017 by journalists, whistleblowers and lawyers, TSN operates internationally to hold powerful interests accountable. TSN provides customized support to a selected group of whistleblowers who have contributed to published reports of significant wrongdoing. This support may include legal, psychological, physical safety, temporary safe-housing, online safety, career support and communication support.

For journalist inquiries, email sarah@thesignalsnetwork.org. For whistleblower support, email protect@thesignalsnetwork.org.