Facebook Oversight Board To Review Alleged Whitelisting Of High-Profile Users

Following a Wall Street Journal report charging that Facebook gives millions of high-profile users immunity from enforcement of its rules, the Facebook Oversight Board has announced that it is "looking into" the "cross-check" internal system allegedly used to whitelist those users.

Cross-check, or "X-Check," was originally intended as a quality-control measure for actions taken against high-profile accounts, but internal documents show that it evolved into a whitelisting tool, WSJ reported. 

In 2019, an internal Facebook review determined that the practice was "not publicly defensible." Facebook has since told the Oversight Board in writing that the separate system for high-profile users was used only in "a small number of decisions," per the report.

In a post on Tuesday, the board thanked WSJ and other journalists for shedding more light on Facebook's inconsistent decision processes.

The board is now "looking into the degree to which Facebook has been fully forthcoming in its responses in relation to cross-check, including the practice of whitelisting" and "has reached out to Facebook to request they provide further clarity about the information previously shared with us," the post states. "We expect to receive a briefing from Facebook in the coming days and will be reporting what we hear from this as part of our first release of quarterly transparency reports, which we will publish in October. On top of providing new information on the types of appeals the Board is receiving, these reports will provide an analysis of the Board’s decisions related to cross-check and Facebook’s responses on this topic."

The board is also reviewing how it can "further explore policy issues related to cross-check, which may lead to further recommendations in this area," the post states -- adding that it had warned Facebook in its decision upholding Facebook's original ban of Donald Trump that "a lack of clear public information about cross-check and Facebook’s ‘newsworthiness exception’ could contribute to perceptions that Facebook is unduly influenced by political and commercial considerations."

Facebook has acknowledged that implementation of the cross-check system was flawed, and has said it is phasing out whitelisting.

WSJ's report on the cross-check system was part of a series of investigative articles about Facebook's practices, including how its algorithm fosters divisiveness, how drug cartels and human traffickers use Facebook's services openly, and how Instagram in particular has negative effects on some teens' mental health.

In response to the series, Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, published a blog post titled "What the Wall Street Journal Got Wrong."

The post asserts that the articles contained "deliberate mischaracterizations" of what Facebook is trying to do, and "conferred egregiously false motives to Facebook's leadership and employees." 

The Oversight Board's wasn't the only post on Tuesday.

Facebook itself published a post reporting that it has invested more than $13 billion in teams and technology on safety and security issues since 2016, and detailing those efforts and its improved approaches to protecting users' privacy. The post coincided with announcements of consumer products, including 10" Portal Go and updated Portal Plus devices.

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