A report by the Wall Street Journal has revealed that Facebook allows well-known users to break their platform’s rules without consequence.
Users placed on the XCheck list are given immunity from the social network’s standard rules.
Usual enforcement procedures were doled out by members of Facebook’s public-policy team and senior executives. In 2020, a Facebook data scientist revealed that the site “routinely makes exceptions for powerful actors.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that posts from high profile accounts had delayed enforcement times, meaning posts were live on Facebook for general users to see for long periods of time before being removed.
An internal source said that Facebook are “not actually doing what [they] say we do publicly,” the same source went on to call the company’s policy “a breach of trust” that allows certain members to “violate [Facebook’s] standards without any consequence.”
In 2020, posts that were reviewed through XCheck were seen at least 16.4 billion times before removal from the social media site.
In 2019, Brazilian football star Neymar uploaded a video to Facebook defending himself against a rape accusation, exposing messages exchanged between himself and the woman.
The clips included the woman’s name and explicit photographs of her, yet it was not immediately deleted due to the special treatment given to Neymar’s account.
Usual procedure for “non-consensual intimate imagery” would see Facebook immediately remove the video. It would also have a negative impact on the account that posted the material, leading to the account being deleted.
The woman in question was harassed online over the posts made by Neymar, who was not removed from the site in accordance to Facebook’s general procedure for posting unauthorised nude photographs.
Neymar’s post was viewed 56 million times before being removed. The post was described as “revenge porn” by an internal report on its removal. However, Neymar’s account remained active after Facebook’s review makers made a “departure” from the usual “one strike profile disable policy.”
The woman was charged with an account of fraud, extortion and slander in Brazil. The slander and extortion charges were dropped in 2019. She was later acquitted of the fraud charge in 2020.
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A spot on the XCheck list is given to profiles deemed “newsworthy”, “influential or popular” or “PR risky”.
A ‘whitelist’ account means that the user is not subject to any enforcement. An internal 2019 review made it clear that whitelists “pose numerous legal, compliance, and legitimacy risks for the company and harm to our community.”
The same review said the system was “not publicly defensible” as it led to bias towards those users to be widespread.
Names on the list have included Donald Trump and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It is not clear from the report if these names were whitelisted at any point.
A spokesperson for Facebook said, “A lot of this internal material is outdated information stitched together to create a narrative that glosses over the most important point: Facebook itself identified the issues with cross check and has been working to address them.
“We’ve made investments, built a dedicated team, and have been redesigning cross check to improve how the system operates.”
The spokesperson defended the system, saying it had been created to deal with content that needs “more understanding”.
According to the Wall Street Journal, there were 5.8 million users on the XCheck list in 2020.
A memo released by a product manager on Facebook’s Mistakes Prevention Team in March 2021 revealed that the XCheck list was growing at an exponential rate.