WASHINGTON – Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says the company has fallen short of full disclosure on its internal system that exempts high-profile users from some or all of its content rules.
Facebook “has not been fully forthcoming” with the overseers about its “XCheck,” or cross-check, system the board said in a report Thursday. It also said it will review the system and recommend how the social network giant could change it.
The board started looking into the XCheck system last month after The Wall Street Journal reported that many VIP users abuse it, posting material that would cause ordinary users to be sanctioned — including for harassment and incitement of violence. For certain elite users, Facebook’s rules reportedly don’t seem to apply. There were at least 5.8 million exempted users as of last year, according to the Journal article.
Facebook is generally not bound under the oversight board’s rules to follow its recommendations.
“We believe the board’s work has been impactful, which is why we asked the board for input into our cross-check system, and we will strive to be clearer in our explanations to them going forward," Facebook said in a statement Thursday.
The report said Facebook wrongly failed to mention the XCheck system when it asked the board earlier this year to rule on its ban on former President Donald Trump’s accounts following the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
“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 report said.
In May, the board upheld Facebook’s suspension of Trump’s accounts, which came out of concern that he incited violence leading to the Jan. 6 riot. But the overseers told Facebook to specify how long the suspension would last. Facebook later announced that Trump’s accounts would be suspended for two years, freezing his presence on the social network until early 2023, to be followed by a reassessment.
Trump announced Wednesday the launch of a new media company with its own social media platform. He said his goal is to create a rival to the Big Tech companies that have shut him out and denied him the megaphone that was paramount in his national rise.
Twitter, which was Trump's platform of choice, banned him permanently after the Jan. 6 assault.
The oversight board said Thursday that for its review, Facebook agreed to provide the internal company documents on the XCheck system that were referenced in the Journal article. Facebook documents were leaked to the newspaper by Frances Haugen, a former product manager in the company’s civic integrity unit who also provided them to Congress and went public this month with a far-reaching condemnation of the company.
In a separate blog post, the board said Haugen has accepted its invitation for a meeting in coming weeks, to discuss her experiences “and gather information that can help push for greater transparency and accountability from Facebook through our case decisions and recommendations."
Haugen’s accusations of possible serious harm to some young people from Facebook’s Instagram photo-sharing platform raised outrage among lawmakers and the public.
The board said in its report that in some cases, “Facebook failed to provide relevant information to the board, while in other instances, the information it did provide was incomplete.”
In a briefing to the board, “Facebook admitted it should not have said that (XCheck) only applied to a ‘small number of decisions,’” the report said. “Facebook noted that for teams operating at the scale of millions of content decisions a day, the numbers involved ... seem relatively small, but recognized its phrasing could come across as misleading.”
Facebook created the oversight panel to rule on thorny content issues following widespread criticism of its problems responding swiftly and effectively to misinformation, hate speech and harmful influence campaigns. The board's decisions have tended to favor free expression over the restriction of content. Its members include a former prime minister of Denmark and a former editor-in-chief of British newspaper the Guardian, along with legal scholars, human rights experts and journalists.
The board's independence has been questioned by critics who say it's a Facebook PR campaign intended to draw attention away from deeper problems of hate and misinformation that flourish on its platforms.
Follow Marcy Gordon at https://twitter.com/mgordonap