‘High Profile’ Users Often Get a Free Pass to Violate Facebook’s Rules: Report
According to a new report that assessed the social media giant’s internal documents, Facebook exempts its high-profile users from standard moderation protocols that are supposed to apply across the board.
Published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the report is titled “Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All. Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt.“
The report states that Facebook has been using a program — called “XCheck” or “CrossCheck” — that shields millions of VIP users from the company’s standard content moderation practices. Essentially, if a user meets criteria like “newsworthy,” “influential or popular,” or “PR risky,” they are put on the list, and henceforth, subjected to special rules for content moderation.
Citing an instance of whitelisting — i.e., not subjecting a user to enforcement of rules — the report refers to a 2019 incident of Brazilian footballer Neymar posting nude pictures of a woman who had accused him of rape. Facebook didn’t immediately delete Neymar’s post as per Facebook’s procedure for “non-consensual intimate imagery,” and reportedly, the platform blocked its moderators from removing the post for more than 24 hours.
Moreover, the report states that, generally, users posting unauthorized nude photos would have their accounts deleted by Facebook — a consequence Neymar didn’t have to face for his actions. “After escalating the case to leadership, we decided to leave Neymar’s accounts active, a departure from our usual ‘one strike’ profile disable policy,” an internal review of the matter by Facebook said, according to WSJ’s report.
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Facebook subsequently removed the post, but only after it had been viewed more than 55 million times on Facebook and Instagram, resulting in the woman whose unauthorized pictures were posted being bullied and harassed online in the meantime.
WSJ’s report cites more incriminating statements from Facebook’s internal review, which states: “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.”
In 2020, there were as many as 5.8 million users on the XCheck list, including former U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, and the founder of the company, Mark Zuckerberg.
Last year, another report by WSJ found that Facebook had “turned a blind eye” to hate speech against Rohingya Muslim immigrants by T. Raja Singh, a politician from the ruling party in India. Reportedly, Facebook’s inaction in this instance was motivated by its objective to avoid hurting its business prospects in the country.
The Guardian reported that a spokesperson from Facebook has responded to the censure of XCheck, calling the criticism “fair,” but justifying the usage of the program, nonetheless.
“A lot of this internal material is outdated information stitched together to create a narrative that glosses over the most important point: Facebook itself identified the issues with CrossCheck and has been working to address them,” the spokesperson said, adding: “We’ve made investments, built a dedicated team, and have been redesigning CrossCheck to improve how the system operates.”