Oversight Board Says Facebook Hasn't Fully Disclosed How It Treats High-Profile Users

Facebook's semi-independent oversight board says the company "has not been fully forthcoming" with how the system handles high-profile users and what content rules it holds them to.

The oversight board wrote in a report Thursday that Facebook has not given full disclosure on its "XCheck" or cross-check system, and will further review it, although Facebook is not required to follow the oversight board's rules or recommendations.

The board's report said that Facebook failed to mention the XCheck system when it previously asked the board to rule on its ban on former President Donald Trump.

"Facebook only mentioned cross-check to the board when we asked whether Mr. Trump's page or account had been subject to ordinary content-moderation processes," the report said.

The XCheck system has been suspected by The Wall Street Journal of allowing VIP users to post material that ordinary users would not be allowed to, for various reasons such as harassment and incitement of violence. At least 5.8 million users were exempted, according to the outlet.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Facebook checked by Oversight Board
Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says the company “has not been fully forthcoming” with how the system handles high-profile users and what content rules it holds them to. Above, the thumbs-up "Like" logo is seen on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on April 25, 2019. Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

"We believe the board's work has been impactful, which is why we asked the board for input into our cross-check system, and we will strive to be clearer in our explanations to them going forward," Facebook said in a statement Thursday.

In May, the board upheld Facebook's suspension of Trump's accounts, which came out of concern that he incited violence leading to the Jan. 6 riot. But the overseers told Facebook to specify how long the suspension would last. Facebook later announced that Trump's accounts would be suspended for two years, freezing his presence on the social network until early 2023, to be followed by a reassessment.

Trump announced Wednesday the launch of a new media company with its own social media platform. He said his goal is to create a rival to the Big Tech companies that have shut him out and denied him the megaphone that was paramount in his national rise.

Twitter, which was Trump's platform of choice, banned him permanently after the Jan. 6 assault.

The oversight board said Thursday that for its review, Facebook agreed to provide the internal company documents on the XCheck system that were referenced in the Journal article. Facebook documents were leaked to the newspaper by Frances Haugen, a former product manager in the company's civic integrity unit who also provided them to Congress and went public this month with a far-reaching condemnation of the company.

In a separate blog post, the board said Haugen has accepted its invitation for a meeting in coming weeks, to discuss her experiences "and gather information that can help push for greater transparency and accountability from Facebook through our case decisions and recommendations."

Haugen's accusations of possible serious harm to some young people from Facebook's Instagram photo-sharing platform raised outrage among lawmakers and the public.

The board said in its report that in some cases, "Facebook failed to provide relevant information to the board, while in other instances, the information it did provide was incomplete."

In a briefing to the board, "Facebook admitted it should not have said that (XCheck) only applied to a 'small number of decisions,'" the report said. "Facebook noted that for teams operating at the scale of millions of content decisions a day, the numbers involved...seem relatively small, but recognized its phrasing could come across as misleading."

Facebook created the oversight panel to rule on thorny content issues following widespread criticism of its problems responding swiftly and effectively to misinformation, hate speech and harmful influence campaigns. The board's decisions have tended to favor free expression over the restriction of content. Its members include a former prime minister of Denmark and a former editor-in-chief of British newspaper the Guardian, along with legal scholars, human rights experts and journalists.

The board's independence has been questioned by critics who say it's a Facebook PR campaign intended to draw attention away from deeper problems of hate and misinformation that flourish on its platforms.