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Facebook wants guidance from Oversight Board on its cross-check program for high-profile users

After damning revelations about Facebook’s moderation policies for public figures, the social media platform is seeking help.

Just a couple of weeks after being accused by the Wall Street Journal of misleading the Oversight Board on the cross-check program, Facebook has now made an about-turn and is asking the board to provide guidance on how this program, which provides content rule exceptions to high-profile users, should be run.

We know the system isn’t perfect. We have new teams and resources in place, and we are continuing to make improvements. But more are needed. The Oversight Board’s recommendations will be a big part of this continued work. — Facebook

“Specifically, we will ask the board for guidance on the criteria we use to determine what is prioritized for a secondary review via cross-check, as well as how we manage the program,” Facebook said.

“We look forward to receiving the formal request, which will be considered through the Board’s usual process for accepting a policy advisory opinion,” the Oversight Board said. “Facebook must embrace clear rules which are enforced consistently and give users confidence they will be treated fairly. We will be engaging with diverse civil society leaders, researchers and other voices as we work to scrutinize these crucial issues,” the board added.

What is Facebook’s cross-check program?

On September 13, Wall Street Journal published an exposé revealing that high-profile users on Facebook are exempt from some or all of the social media giant’s rules as part of a company program known as cross-check or Xcheck. The program was initially intended as a quality control measure for action taken against high-profile accounts, but it ended up granting immunity to public figures from action, including in cases where their posts amounted to harassment or incited violence, the report stated. Xcheck has allowed posts that violated its rules to be viewed at least 16.4 billion times, WSJ revealed.

In the past, Facebook has routinely claimed that all users on its platforms are held to the same standards. But the WSJ report shows that when it comes to enforcing Facebook’s guidelines, the company maintains explicit segregation between ordinary users and VIPs.

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Facebook to respond to Board’s questions in the coming weeks

“It is crucial that we continue to ask questions on cross-check (Xcheck), and publish the answers for people to see. Transparency is essential for social media platforms,” the Oversight Board said in a blog post earlier this week where it announced that it has reached out to Facebook to request they provide further clarity on exceptions made for high-profile users.

“We are looking into the degree to which Facebook has been fully forthcoming in its responses in relation to cross-check, including the practice of whitelisting,” the board said.

Facebook has now said that it will brief the board on the program and answer their questions over the coming weeks and months. “We welcome their recommendations and the independent oversight they provide. Per the bylaws, we will publicly respond to their recommendations within 30 days,” the social media company added.

Did Facebook mislead its own Oversight Board about Xcheck?

In May this year, Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld the company’s decision to suspend Donald Trump’s account. The board made 19 recommendations for future action in its verdict, among which was to share the criteria for adding pages and accounts to cross-check as well as to report on relative error rates of determinations made through cross-check, compared with its ordinary enforcement procedures.

A month after these recommendations, Facebook told the Oversight Board that Xcheck was used for a small number of decisions, but did not elaborate criteria for adding pages and accounts to the system and declined to provide reporting on error rates. “It’s not feasible to track this information,” Facebook wrote in its responses.

“In our decision concerning former US President Donald Trump’s accounts, we warned that a lack of clear public information on cross-check and Facebook’s ‘newsworthiness exception’ could contribute to perceptions that Facebook is unduly influenced by political and commercial considerations.” – Oversight Board

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