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How has the process of whistleblowing changed over the years?

The Government Accountability Project published a timeline of whistleblowers throughout the United States history. The timeline dates back to 1773, setting up a long history of whistleblowing—before the term “whistleblowing” even existed.

Whistleblowers have played an essential role in U.S. society since the country's founding. However, the methods of whistleblowing have changed over the years. 

Investigative journalism was a breakthrough strategy

Evidence of abuse or fraud has always been a necessary component of blowing the whistle. And long before the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) of 1989 was established, many external whistleblowers had to collect that evidence themselves in their own investigations.

Some famous examples of these published findings include:

  • Nellie Bly’s undercover investigation in a New York asylum in Ten Days in a Mad-House
  • Upton Sinclair’s report on horrible health and working conditions of slaughterhouses in The Jungle
  • Rachel Carson’s exposure of the dangerous effects of the pesticide DDT in her Silent Spring

At the time, there was no specific procedure to report their findings. So, they published their claims for the public to read.

The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 gave employees a process

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 provided some protections for employees who reported dangerous practices or conditions in the workplace. However, it was the WPA that gave whistleblowers the rights they have today. It also gave whistleblowers a consistent procedure to report their claims, by giving them:

  • Access to the Office of Special Counsel and other agencies to represent them
  • A process to report labor violations or retaliation to government agencies
  • Rights to anonymity and confidentiality when filing a report

Providing a procedure for blowing the whistle allowed the U.S. Government to protect whistleblowers better as well as take effective action.

Could publishing return as a method for whistleblowing?

For years, whistleblowers followed the procedures outlined in the WPA. The process guaranteed their rights, after all. However, it is possible that publishing claims could make a resurgence.

The rise of technology and social media gives employees and individuals a platform to speak out, similar to the articles and books of the twentieth century. And there is no denying that the #MeToo movement has impacted modern-day whistleblowing.

The movement gained significant traction in 2017. It allows celebrities and employees alike to share their stories of sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace. In turn, their stories led to a crackdown on workplace safety.

While the #MeToo movement might impact the strategies of whistleblowing, it is critical to note that posting on social media can hurt both an individual’s rights and a whistleblower investigation.

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