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Facebook whistleblower accuses company of failing to address climate change misinformation

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Frances Haugen’s lawyers filed two new SEC complaints

TIME Person of the Year
Whistleblower Aid filed two new SEC complaints on behalf of Frances Haugen.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for TIME

Facebook is the subject of two new Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) complaints filed by Whistleblower Aid, the nonprofit that represents Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, first reported by The Washington Post. The complaints accuse Facebook, now Meta, of misleading investors about its efforts to tackle misinformation about climate change and COVID-19.

The first complaint, obtained by The Washington Post, alleges the presence of readily available climate change misinformation on Facebook, making Facebook’s claims that it’s fighting climate denial fall flat. It also contains internal documents detailing employees’ own experiences with climate-related falsehoods on the platform. As noted by The Post, one employee reports searching for “climate change” in the Watch tab and then seeing a video that promotes “climate misinfo” as the second result. The video in question has reportedly garnered 6.6 million views. Another employee allegedly urged the company to remove climate misinformation, rather than merely label posts with potential falsehoods.

The complaint also mentions Facebook’s Climate Science Information Center, a hub for credible climate change information the platform launched in 2020. As reported by The Post, the complaint references internal records that claim user awareness of the hub was “very low,” suggesting it may not have had its intended reach. Last year, Meta attempted to bolster its Climate Science Information Center with additional quizzes, videos, and facts. A study conducted months later found that climate change denial has become even more widespread on the platform.

The second complaint alleges Facebook’s promise to combat COVID-19 misinformation didn’t align with its actions. According to The Post, the complaint cites an internal document showing a 20 percent increase in misinformation in April 2020, as well as a May 2020 record in which employees point out the presence of hundreds of anti-quarantine groups. Last July, President Joe Biden accused Facebook and other social platforms of “killing people” with misinformation about COVID-19 and its vaccines.

“We’ve directed more than 2 billion people to authoritative public health information and continue to remove false claims about vaccines, conspiracy theories, and misinformation,” Meta spokesperson Drew Pusateri said in an emailed statement to The Verge. “There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to stopping the spread of misinformation, but we’re committed to building new tools and policies to combat it.”

Haugen leaked a trove of internal Facebook documents — dubbed the Facebook Papers — to the Wall Street Journal last year. She has since testified before Congress to discuss possible changes to Section 230, the law that shields websites from legal accountability for illegal content that users may post.

The SEC didn’t immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment.

Update February 20th 5:50PM ET: Updated to add a statement from a Meta spokesperson