WASHINGTON, D.C.- May 9th, 2019
A whistleblower supported by the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) has filed a petition with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleging that Facebook is likely violating securities laws that prohibit publicly-traded companies from misleading shareholders and the public. The anonymous whistleblower’s petition, which includes a rigorous, 5-month study of over 3,000 Facebook users expressing support for terrorist organizations, was released to the public today and covered in a story by the Associated Press.
According to the petition, Facebook is alleged to be “auto-generating” its own terror and hate content using materials provided by these individuals – further demonstrating that Facebook’s many assurances about its prompt removal of terror and hate content are highly misleading.
John Kostyack, NWC Executive Director and counsel for the whistleblower, stated:
“We are grateful to the whistleblower for bringing this disturbing information to the SEC and for authorizing its release to the public. We hope that SEC takes prompt action to impose meaningful sanctions on Facebook and that this information stimulates a public debate about the accountability of social media companies for addressing terrorist recruiting and other organized crime on their websites.”
Stephen M. Kohn, NWC Board Chairman and co-counsel for the whistleblower, stated:
“In enacting whistleblower protections under the Securities and Exchange Act, Congress recognized that SEC’s success with its mission depends in part on securing the unique information and analysis about corporate wrongdoing that only whistleblowers can provide. Thanks to our whistleblower, the SEC now has all of the information it needs to initiate an investigation and impose appropriate penalties based on the evidence.”
Facebook has stated that it is committed to removing terror and hate content from its website and often cites as proof of this commitment that it is removing 99% of the content of ISIS, al-Qaeda and those affiliated with them.
“One thing that I’m proud of is our AI [Artificial Intelligence] tools that help us take down ISIS and al-Qaeda-related terror content,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors on a quarterly earnings call in April 2018.
According to the petition, the whistleblower’s research shows that ISIS and al-Qaeda are openly networking on Facebook’s website. Moreover, the whistleblower’s study of the Facebook activity of 12 self-identified terrorists and their more than 3,000 Friends from August to December 2018 found that Facebook removed just 38% of the content of Friends who were displaying the symbols of terrorist groups.
More disturbingly, the whistleblower’s petition shows that Facebook creates its own terror and hate content using its auto-generation technology. For example, Facebook has created its own “Local Business” page for the terrorist group al-Qaeda, one of the groups that it purportedly is scrubbing from its website. This page had 7,410 Likes, providing valuable data to al-Qaeda in its recruiting.
The study found similar extremist content from self-identified Nazis and white supremacist groups in the United States that went unchallenged. A page auto-created by Facebook for the American Nazi Party goes so far as to provide a link to the hate group’s website.
In addition to auto-creating pages with terror and hate content, Facebook also is creating auto-generated videos entitled “Celebrations” and “Memories” for Friends of terrorist and white supremacist groups. These videos assist users in spreading terrorist iconography and militant activity across their networks. For example, Facebook generated a Celebration video highlighting images of graphic violence and insurgency – originally posted by a Friend of a terrorist group – that received over 2,000 Likes.
The SEC now must decide whether to exercise its authority to hold Facebook accountable for keeping this critical information from its shareholders and the public.
NWC is the nation’s leading nonprofit focused on protecting whistleblowers and advocating for laws that encourage and reward their assistance with fighting corruption and other wrongdoing. In addition to assisting with the matter involving Facebook and terror and hate content, NWC is providing support to anonymous whistleblowers that have exposed extensive illegal trafficking of endangered wildlife and stolen antiquities on Facebook and other social media websites. The petitions challenging the misleading statements of these companies about this criminal activity are pending with SEC.