Facebook’s XCheck possibly allowed 5.8 million prominent figures using the social network to get special treatment for the content they post. The company lets these accounts get away with posting anything, even objectionable content in violation of policies, on the platform.
The world’s largest social media network may not be holding everyone on its platform to the same standards. According to an explosive report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Facebook is engaging in favoritism for some users. These usually have a high-profile stature, including celebrities, journalists, politicians, athletes, activists, and some organizations.
WSJ’s investigation led them to some internal company documents that reveal that 5.8 million users are currently exempt from Facebook system-level moderation. Naturally, the abatement of moderation policies isn’t applicable for regular users.
The Journal’s findings point to the XCheck or â€˜cross check’ program, which has existed since 2018. XCheck was implemented to allay PR fires, or in other words, the ramifications of accidentally taking down a Facebook post made by an influential figure.
Posts made on Facebook usually go through system moderators or others who aren’t Facebook employees. The company hands out contractors they hire to monitor, and if necessary, banish content that they deem inappropriate. This includes content that may be distressing, pornographic, misinformation, inciting violence etc.
Posts that are in violation of Facebook policies are usually taken down or hidden. Controversial posts or posts made by high-profile users that didn’t adhere to the company’s policies getting caught in the crossfire was proving to be a PR headache for the social media giant.
The introduction of XCheck was meant to control this. Superficially, it served as a quality control mechanism wherein posts by high-profile users were subject to a separate review process, necessarily involving a human employed at Facebook. Facebook clarified in July 2018Opens a new window that with XCheck, the company gives â€œa second layer of review to make sure we’ve applied our policies correctlyâ€.
â€œCross Checking something on Facebook does not protect the profile, Page or content from being removed. It is simply done to make sure our decision is correct.â€
Andy StoneOpens a new window , policy communications director at Facebook, reiterated this in a series of tweets. He attributes the issue at hand to the imperfection still existing in the system rather than accept the prevalence of a biased review process.
The WSJ piece repeatedly cites Facebook’s own documents pointing to the need for changes that are in fact already underway at the company. We have new teams, new resources and an overhaul of the process that is an existing work-stream at Facebook.
â€” Andy Stone (@andymstone) September 13, 2021Opens a new window
Turns out this imperfection was just a way for the company to give a free pass to elite users making rule-breaking posts on Facebook. And if it wasn’t like this from the outset, it certainly has mutated into a system that holds more than a few million to lenient standards.
As such, posts from elites that can stir up public sentiments against Facebook do not see the same level of scrutiny and enforcement of policies as do those by average users, the document revealed.
â€œFor a select few members of our community, we are not enforcing our policies and standards. Unlike the rest of our community, these people can violate our standards without any consequences,â€ the internal document found by The Journal reads.
You have to hand it to Facebook, which deems 5.8 million members as â€˜few.’ The wording may stem from the fact that 5.8 million users are 0.2% of the total 2.9 billion usersOpens a new window . It is by no means a small number. Nevertheless, how many users are excluded from enforcement isn’t as significant as knowing that the company doesn’t have the same playing field for everyone using the highly addictive service.
And if highly objectionable content is found which may have no consequences to Facebook, it isn’t removed until it’s too late. The document revealed that such content was viewed over 16 billion times before finally being deleted. For instance, Brazilian and PSG football star Neymar posted a video of his WhatsApp correspondence with a woman who accused him of rape.
While the video was posted in defense of the rape allegations, it did contain nude images of the accuser. Since Neymar comes under XCheck, his Facebook account wasn’t subjected to the same standards. Consequently, the video post, which would have been removed if it was posted from a normal account, was not removed before being viewed over 56 million times and reposted more than 6,000 times.
A regular account would also have been deactivated in case its owner posted nonconsensual sexual images. No such actions were made against Neymar.
What’s more, is that Facebook employees are aware of this â€œbreach of trust.â€ WSJ’s report cited the following to Facebook employees who conducted an internal review back in 2019:
â€œWe are not actually doing what we say we do publicly.â€
â€œThe Political Whitelist Contradicts Facebook’s Core Stated Principles.â€
The Oversight Board, which is responsible for making Facebook accountable with respect to content moderation on Facebook and Instagram, tweeted:
The Board has repeatedly made recommendations that Facebook be far more transparent in general, including about its management of high-profile accounts, while ensuring that its policies treat all users fairly.
â€” Oversight Board (@OversightBoard) September 13, 2021Opens a new window
Facebook is relying, yet again, on shortcomings in the system rather than owning up to XCheck running askew. In the past, the company has been lax about upholding user privacy. In one instance, inaction on the part of Facebook leaked data of more than 500 million users, according to Wired. The company also hasn’t been completely transparent about how it uses user data.
Last week, Texas signed a law that aims to curb wrongful censorship on social media platforms. It prevents social networking sites from banning users based on their political opinions.
Texas governor, Greg AbbottOpens a new window saidOpens a new window , â€œSocial media websites have become our modern-day public square. They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely â€” but there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas. That is wrong, and we will not allow it in Texas.â€
While this law does help in facilitating the average user with legal options pertaining to their content, it is of little value when it comes to VIPs.
Interestingly, these recent revelations are a reminder of a quote from George Orwell’s satirical novella Animal Farm. It goes, â€œAll animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.â€