Facebook’s secret program, X-Check, or Cross-Check, has allowed celebrities, certain political figures, and other prominent accounts to avoid policies that all users must follow. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO, and founder of Facebook, has said for years that his platform treats its 3 billion users equally when it comes to policies. We are now confirming that this is not the case.
The Wall Street Journal uncovered a confidential, internal audit that showed Cross-Check allowed millions of high profile individuals to post material not typically permitted under Facebook’s policies. This content includes bullying, sexual material, hate speech, incitement to violence, and other banned material. Users who were not on this special list were often subject to flagged posts.
The Oversight Board has expressed on multiple occasions its concern about the lack of transparency in Facebook’s content moderation processes, especially relating to the company’s inconsistent management of high-profile accounts.
— Oversight Board (@OversightBoard) September 13, 2021
Cross-Check’s original purpose was to make sure Facebook avoided PR issues if it attempted to censor or de-platform famous users. This led to many high-profile users becoming “whitelisted,” meaning their accounts were free from the scrutiny, penalties, and algorithms that average users are subject to. In 2020 there were over a 5.8million VIP users. The report states, “The company allowed VIPs to incorrectly claim that former President Donald Trump said asylum-seeking refugees are “animals” and that Hillary Clinton led a pedophile ring.”
According to Daily Wire, an internal memo from 2019 titled “The Political Whitelist Contradicts Facebook’s Core Stated Principles,” the researchers stated, “We are not actually doing what we say we do publicly…Unlike the rest of our community, these people can violate our standards without any consequences.”
Facebook uses an independent oversight board, charged with settling precedent-setting moderation questions. The board has even called on Facebook to address their lack of consistency and rules for celebrities. The Board released a statement saying, “The Board has repeatedly made recommendations that Facebook is far more transparent in general, including about its management of high-profile accounts, while ensuring that its policies treat all users fairly.”
In the end, at the center of this story is Facebook's own analysis that we need to improve the program. We know our enforcement is not perfect and there are tradeoffs between speed and accuracy.
— Andy Stone (@andymstone) September 13, 2021
Andy Stone, Facebook’s policy communications director, responded to the Wall Street Journal report in a Twitter thread. His defense was that cross-checking simply means that some content from certain profiles is given a second layer of review to apply the policies correctly. He continues to try and defend the company saying, “But since 2019, when we, ourselves, promoted that the company would take this approach to politicians’ speech, there have been literally hundreds of news stories critical of our approach…In the end, at the center of this story is Facebook’s own analysis that we need to improve the program…”
The WSJ contends that the internal documents prove Facebook knows that its platforms have errors and flaws that cause harm. A second report, released Tuesday, sheds light on the fact that Facebook had reason to know that its sister app, Instagram, has been damaging to teens’ mental health.
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