Special Report

Biggest Scandals of the Year

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Wells Fargo

Beginning in 2016, Wells Fargo has been besieged by scandals, starting with illegal sales practices — employees created millions of fake accounts — that eventually cost CEO John Stumpf his job and the bank $185 million in fines. Those problems do not seem to be going away. On Dec. 5, Wells Fargo said it was firing around three dozen district managers for oversight failures connected with that sales scandal. The action is the first instance of district manager dismissals since the scandal broke two years ago. There have been other problems for Wells Fargo. In September, the California-based bank began refunding customers for products such as pet insurance and home warranties that customers did not understand or had not agreed to purchase. Also, the bank apologized for a computer glitch that led to home foreclosure notifications for hundreds of customers.

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It was a year to forget for Facebook. The company’s users were outraged when reports surfaced that the social media giant allowed London-based Cambridge Analytica to mine data from as many as 87 million accounts that were used to help Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016. Outraged Facebook customers felt betrayed, and many canceled their accounts. Facebook faced other problems. In November, the company confirmed that Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg sought information about billionaire George Soros, a critic of Facebook and other technology companies, and whether he stood to profit financially from his attacks on them. Facebook later contracted with opposition research effort by Definers Public Affairs, which disseminated public information about Soros’ financial support of advocacy groups critical of Facebook. This was later revealed by a New York Times investigation and became an embarrassment for Facebook, which eventually fired the company.

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Social media company Twitter faced a firestorm of criticism over how its platform is used for “hate speech.” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey convened a meeting in August with his colleagues to discuss ways to make the service safe for users. They also talked about excising so-called dehumanizing speech, even if it might violate company rules. On its rules page, Twitter says it believes “that everyone should have the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” But its rules forbid using its platform for harassing people, making unwanted sexual advances, promoting violence, or displaying hateful imagery. The flap over hate speech at Twitter also raises concerns about the limits of free speech.

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