The Sunday Show: Accountability after the Facebook Papers

Justin Hendrix / Jan 23, 2022

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Today we have two segments on the show. First, I catch up with one reporter who has read every single one of the documents leaked by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen: Shoshana Wodinsky, a staff reporter at Gizmodo covering consumer privacy and tech policy. Shoshana is part of a trio at the site-- with Dell Cameron and Andrew Couts-- that pledged in November to make the entire trove of Facebook papers available to the public. Now, they are on the verge of doing just that.

Second, last month I spoke with three lawyers- including one former Massachusetts attorney general- that were involved in the legal actions that led to the Big Tobacco Master Settlement about whether that effort to hold an industry to account might provide a roadmap for addressing the harms of tech firms.

Last year, a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Attorney General on behalf of the Ohio Public EmployeesRetirement System and other investors targeted the company’s false claims about the safety of its platform and argued that it had “knowingly exploited its most vulnerable users.” Writing for Just Security-- an online forum about national security, foreign policy and human rights where I am also an occasional contributor-- Scott Harshbarger and Dennis Aftergut argued that the Ohio suit might signal the start of something. They believe that the massive legal effort against Big Tobacco in the 1990s can serve as blueprint for today’s state attorneys general.

At that time, Harshbarger was the Massachusetts attorney general who ultimately signed the 1998 settlement, and Aftergut worked on the case in California, where he was the Chief Assistant City Attorney in San Francisco. 46 states, private parties, and Big Tobacco companies reached the largest settlement of civil litigation claims in American history. Under that agreement and in related settlements with the other states, the tobacco companies were bound to a variety of restrictions on marketing practices and have since paid the states more than $200 billion dollars.

To learn more about the parallels they see to today’s effort in Ohio and the possibility it might lead to action on a similar scale, I spoke with Scott and Dennis last month along with Thomas Green, who served as the First Assistant Attorney General of Massachusetts working with Scott on the tobacco lawsuits from 1992 to 1998.


Justin Hendrix
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & ...