Oversight Board: Facebook ‘Not Forthcoming’ On VIP Cross-check System

Facebook has taken another blow this week, after its own Supreme Court, namely its Oversight Board, censored the social networking giant.

The Oversight Board said that “Facebook has not been fully forthcoming with the Board on its ‘cross-check’ system, which the company uses to review content decisions relating to high-profile users.

Last month Facebook’s Oversight Board said it would investigate reports about the platform’s internal system, used to deal with elite or high-profile public figures.

Whitelisted users?

It came after Facebook’s ‘Cross-check’ (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.

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 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.

Cross-check system

Now this week Facebook’s Oversight Board said that it has pushed Facebook to reveal more information about how it works and to treat its users fairly.

It has now published its first quarterly transparency reports.

“Today’s reports conclude that Facebook has not been fully forthcoming with the Board on its ‘cross-check’ system, which the company uses to review content decisions relating to high-profile users,” it said.

“The Board has also announced that it has accepted a request from Facebook, in the form of a policy advisory opinion, to review its cross-check system and make recommendations on how it can be changed,” it said. “As part of this review, Facebook has agreed to share with the Board documents concerning the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

The board also called Facebook’s failure to include details of the cross-check program in the case of former President Donald Trump’s suspension from the platform unacceptable.

“Given that the referral included a specific policy question about account-level enforcement for political leaders, many of whom the Board believes were covered by cross-check, this omission is not acceptable,” the board wrote in its transparency report with regards to the Trump case.

“Facebook only mentioned cross-check to the Board when we asked whether Mr. Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.”

The board said Facebook admitted it should not have downplayed the number of decisions in which cross-check plays a role.

While the number of decisions is relatively small in the grand scheme of content moderation, Facebook said, according to the board, the company realised “its phrasing could come across as misleading.”

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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