The impact of whistleblowers in calling out wrongdoing has again been highlighted this week through a former Facebook Product Manager, Frances Haugen, telling a US Senate Hearing that Facebook is “operating in the shadows” and hiding its research from public scrutiny.

Ms Haugen revealed that Facebook’s executives have deliberately hidden research that their products harm children, stoke division and weaken democracy.  She has also shown how Facebook’s algorithms amplify misinformation.   

Ms Haugen has provided copies of internal research which shows that executives know about these risks but prefer not to act, favouring astronomical profits over the interests and wellbeing of its users. The whistleblower’s revelations have plunged Facebook into its biggest crisis in years. 

What do these revelations say about culture? 

Companies reflect the ethics of the leaders who run them. Organisational culture is shaped by what those leaders say and do, not the values that are espoused internally and in the public domain. 

Facebook’s stated core values include to “be open”, “focus on impact” and “build social value”. How does keeping consumers in the dark on the negative impact on the health and wellbeing of our children demonstrate a commitment to “be open”? How does prioritising revenue over the welfare of Facebook users and society at large “build social value”? 

We generally recognise that most organisations will have some gap between their purported values and the true values embodied in their DNA that actually guide decisions and actions. Leadership in the best companies are mindful of those values gaps and take active steps to narrow them. 

Sometimes, when leadership fails to act, it takes someone with courage and conviction to speak up and call out these values gaps, particularly where damaging practices have been normalised by the leadership team.  

The role of whistleblowers 

Whistleblowers can play an important role in calling out poor behaviours to help get organisational culture back on track. While an organisation might be measured by its profitability or share price, it is defined by its culture and the ethical lens used by its leaders every day. Culture matters because it influences everything that an organisation does and is critical to its reputation and social licence to operate. 

Whistleblowers are valuable assets in maintaining an ethical culture. They can provide some of the first danger signals when it comes to organisational misconduct or unethical workplace behaviours. A proactive risk management approach includes having the systems, training and protections in place to capture and act on those signals and red flags.

Your Call assists over 700 organisations to operate best-practice whistleblowing programs which are ASIC/ISO37002 compliant and personalised to the needs of the organisation. Contact an expert at Your Call to gain access to tools, resources and services [email protected]   

AUTHOR

Kirsty Harvison – Senior Consultant and General Counsel