Facebook Oversight Board To Examine Free Pass For High-Profile Users

The Facebook Oversight Board is to investigate reports about the platform’s internal system used to deal with elite or high-profile public figures.

Last week Facebook’s ‘CrossCheck’ (Xcheck) system was alleged to have allowed public figures to flout the content rules of the online platform.

It was claimed that Facebook was giving special treatment to well-known users including celebrities, politicians, sportsmen and journalists by putting them in a separate ‘whitelist’ system, allowing them to break Facebook rules.

Whitelisted users?

Under the programme, some users were reportedly “whitelisted” – i.e. not subject to enforcement action – while others were allowed to post material that violated Facebook rules, pending content reviews that often do not take place.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that elite people are placed on the XCheck list (which allows the platform to carry out extra scrutiny), providing they meet certain criteria such as being “newsworthy”, “influential or popular” or “PR risky”.

According to the WSJ, there are currently 5.8 million users on the XCheck list including Donald Trump, US senator Elizabeth Warren and even Mark Zuckerberg. It is not clear if any of these figures were ‘whitelisted.’

The WSJ cited an example of Brazilian football star Neymar, who allegedly responded to a rape accusation in 2019 by posting Facebook and Instagram videos defending himself, which included showing viewers his WhatsApp correspondence with his accuser.

The WhatsApp clips allegedly included the accuser’s name and nude photos of the women in question.

The WSJ reported that instead of immediately deleting the material, which is Facebook’s procedure for “nonconsensual intimate imagery”, moderators were allegedly blocked for more than a day from removing the video.

An internal review of the Neymar posts found that the video was viewed 56m times on Facebook and Instagram before its removal.

Neymar was allegedly not subjected to the normal Facebook procedure for someone who posts unauthorised nude photos, which is to have their account deleted, it is reported.

Oversight investigation

“Last week, new information emerged on Facebook’s ‘cross-check’ system, which the company uses to review content decisions relating to some high-profile users,” the oversight board announced.

“This information came to light due to the reporting of the Wall Street Journal, and we are grateful to the efforts of journalists who have shed greater light on issues that are relevant to the Board’s mission,” it added. “These disclosures have drawn renewed attention to the seemingly inconsistent way that the company makes decisions, and why greater transparency and independent oversight of Facebook matter so much for users.”

“In light of recent developments, we are looking into the degree to which Facebook has been fully forthcoming in its responses in relation to cross-check, including the practice of whitelisting,” the board announced. “The Board has reached out to Facebook to request they provide further clarity about the information previously shared with us.”

It said it expected to receive a briefing from Facebook in the coming days and will be reporting what it hear from this as part of its first release of quarterly transparency reports due to be published in October.

“Steering Facebook towards greater transparency will be a collective effort,” said the board. “Journalists, academics and civil society all have an essential role to play in holding Facebook accountable. By providing crucial independent oversight, we are proud to be part of this.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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