A different set of rules for ‘special’ Facebook users: Report
Social media company Facebook maintains a special list of users for whom its rules apply differently, at times leaving up content that it would otherwise pull down, according to a news report published on Monday.
The Wall Street Journal cited an internal report from the review of a programme known as XCheck, or cross-check. The programme included 5.8 million politicians, celebrities and journalists for whom the rules applied differently.
The disclosures contradict the company’s public stand that its rules apply to everyone equally.
Today, the story said, XCheck shields millions of VIP users from normal enforcement process, the documents show, with some users “whitelisted”—rendered immune from enforcement actions—while others are allowed to post rule-violating material pending Facebook employee reviews that often never come.
The WSJ report, citing the review, gave the example of a post by international football star Neymar, who put up nude photos of a woman who had accused him of rape.
While no Indian example was cited in the report, the disclosures tie in with the news broken by WSJ in August, 2020 that Facebook left up an inflammatory post by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in Telangana since its India-based executives feared blowback from the government.
The issue since snowballed into a larger controversy that rang out in Parliament.
In Monday’s report, WSJ quoted Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone as saying that XCheck was “designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding.” Stone, however, accepted that the criticism of the programme was fair, the American newspaper said.
The news report also characterised Facebook’s routine content moderation as dispensing “rough justice” – “the automated systems summarily delete or bury content suspected of rule violations without a human review. At other times, material flagged by those systems or by users is assessed by content moderators employed by outside companies”, it said.
People on the XCheck list were exempted from these and the internal review of the controversial programme, which took place in 2019, found that most Facebook employees could add users into the system. According to an audit at the time, at least 45 teams around the company were involved in whitelisting users.
The WSJ also quoted Facebook employees aware of the matter as saying that pulling VIP content at times required approval from senior executives on communications public policy teams, such as the company’s founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
It also cited discussions on the company’s internal messaging board for employees to say that a product manager involved with XCheck had agreed with the fairness concerns but said “we have to balance that with business risk”.