Facebook oversight board calls for transparency on high-profile users

22 Oct 2021

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The board, which will review Facebook’s XCheck system, said transparency is an area where the tech giant ‘must urgently improve’.

Facebook’s independent oversight board has appealed for more transparency from the company, especially regarding the treatment of high-profile users on its platform.

The board accused Facebook of not being “fully forthcoming” on its dealings with high-profile account holders. This follows a report by the Wall Street Journal last month, which alleged that high-profile users are “whitelisted” under the tech giant’s XCheck programme and are not subject to the platform’s rules and enforcement actions.

Following these disclosures, the board said that it would now look at “whether Facebook had been forthcoming in its responses on its XCheck system”, which the company uses to review content decisions relating to high-profile users.

It added that “transparency is clearly an area where Facebook must urgently improve”.

“In the board’s view, the team within Facebook tasked with providing information has not been fully forthcoming on XCheck. On some occasions, Facebook failed to provide relevant information to the board, while in other instances, the information it did provide was incomplete.”

The oversight board made reference to its decision to uphold Facebook’s suspension of former US president Donald Trump following the storming of the US Capitol on 6 January. It said Facebook failed to mention the XCheck system when it referred Trump’s case to the board.

“Given that the referral included a specific policy question about account-level enforcement for political leaders, many of whom the board believes were covered by XCheck, this omission is not acceptable. Facebook only mentioned XCheck to the board when we asked whether Mr Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.”

Review of XCheck

The independent oversight board was formed as an external review group to hold Facebook to account on content matters and policies. Its members include legal experts, digital rights experts, academics, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, journalists and former politicians.

Facebook has requested that the board review its XCheck system and provide recommendations as to how it could be changed.

The company has agreed to supply documents relating to XCheck that were reported in the Wall Street Journal. The board said it will work with industry experts, academics and “former Facebook employees who have come forward in recent months” to perform the review.

The source for the Wall Street Journal’s XCheck report was later revealed to be Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who went public earlier this month.

Haugen filed at least eight complaints with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – one of which alleged that Facebook was misleading when it came to the equal enforcement of terms on its platform and that high-profile users can violate platform standards “without any consequences”.

In response to Haugen’s claims, Facebook director of policy communications Lena Pietsch said the company had to “balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly” with the need to keep its platform “a safe and positive place”.

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.