Secret Facebook Program Exempts the Famous from Moderation and Is a ‘Breach of Trust’

Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder, and CEO of Facebook has a history of insisting that the ground is level at his social media platform. He has stated that his company treats its three billion users equally. But a new Wall Street Journal report indicates something very different.

There is a Facebook program known as “X-Check” or “Cross-Check” that has for quite some time allowed celebrities, politicians, and other high-profile accounts to avoid certain policies that other users are forced to use.

This information comes from a confidential, internal audit that the WSJ was able to obtain. The audit indicated that Cross-Check has permitted millions of famous users to post information that included: bullying, sexual material, hate speech, incitement to violence, and other banned content without censure. In fact, some well-known users enjoy a totally hands-off approach while other posts from those unknown are flagged for reviews that never come.

Cross-Check was intended to aid Facebook in avoiding PR issues that could come from censoring or de-platforming famous users. Those researching the company found that this program resulted in many high-profile accounts being “whitelisted.” The famous had total freedom to say what they like without any penalty all the other users faced due to Facebook’s moderators and algorithms.

One example in 2019 was that Facebook allowed Brazilian soccer player Neymar to post nude images of a woman who had accused him of rape. His account is followed by tens of millions of fans. Facebook ultimately took the photos down, but it was not done as quickly as it would have in other cases. The Journal reported that the review showed that the company allowed VIPs to incorrectly claim that former President Donald Trump said asylum-seeking refugees are “animals.” They said in the report that the company’s favoritism to those users was both widespread and not publicly defensible.

There was a 2019 internal memo that was titled: “The Political Whitelist Contradicts Facebook’s Core Stated Principles.” After describing the disconnect between the media giant’s public stance and its actual practice, those researching the company said there was a breach of trust. They 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.”

The Oversight Board doing the internal research is an independent body instituted in 2018. Facebook describes it as a kind of “supreme court” that settles precedent-setting moderation questions. This board called on the company to address the inconsistent rules applying to the famous and challenged Facebook’s lack of transparency in their moderation process.

Andy Stone, Facebook’s policy communications director, responded to the Wall Street Journal’s report on Twitter this past Monday. He said, “As we said in 2018: ‘Cross-check’ simply means that some content from certain Pages or Profiles is given a second layer of review to make sure we’ve applied our policies correctly.’ There aren’t two systems of justice; it’s an attempted safeguard against mistakes.”

But according to WSJ, the internal documents prove that Facebook is very aware that its platform is filled with flaws and could cause people harm. And the news outlet indicated that this report is only the first in a series of articles that will be written from the internal documents that have been revealed. They also will be using interviews with dozens of current and former employees of Facebook as sources in the future. In fact, a second report on Tuesday revealed that the company had information from its sister platform, Instagram, that they were damaging the mental health of teenagers in ways specific to that app.

So stay tuned to The Journal as they promise further reporting will be coming.

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