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Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen after a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen after appearing before a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Oct. 5, 2021 (Pool photo by Drew Angerer via AP).

Facebook and Big Tech Are Facing Their ‘Big Tobacco’ Moment

Friday, Oct. 8, 2021

In 1996, the popular and well-respected U.S. television news program “60 Minutes” aired a whistleblower’s devastating account of corporate malfeasance at America’s third-largest tobacco company. At the time, an estimated 25 percent of Americans smoked cigarettes, and the idea that smoking could be linked to cancer and heart disease or produce birth defects was still a matter of public debate. That changed after Jeffrey Wigand, a biochemist who was hired to oversee the science of making cigarettes more marketable at the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation, told “60 Minutes” that the tobacco company, which he had left in 1993, was lying to the public and to Congress about the harmful effects of its products.

Big Tobacco companies knew, Wigand said then, that there was a problem, because their own research told them so, but they suppressed evidence about how cigarettes hurt public health. It was not until 1998—five years after Wigand left Brown and Williamson and two years after he had exposed its misdeeds—that 45 state attorneys general forced the company and three other Big Tobacco majors to pay out a multimillion-dollar settlement to cover Medicaid costs associated with illnesses linked to cigarette smoking.  ...

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