Facebook Hid Details of Rules-Exempted VIP Program From the Oversight Board

A group of A-listers including Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren were not subject to normal enforcement rules under X-check

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The Facebook-appointed Oversight Board said its investigation found the company hid from them details of its whitelisting program, X-check, which exempted VIP users from the normal enforcement rules.

In its quarterly report published Thursday, the Oversight Board said Facebook made no mention of X-check when it reviewed the case of former President Donald Trump. The program also whitelisted high-profile individuals including soccer star Neymar, Elizabeth Warren, Dan Scavino, Candace Owens and Doug the Pug. Mark Zuckerberg is also on the list.

“Given that the referral included a specific policy question about account-level enforcement for political leaders, many of whom the Board believes were covered by cross-check, this omission is not acceptable. 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 board wrote.

The X-check program was first revealed in an investigation by The Wall Street Journal that detailed how Facebook provided special treatment for politicians, Hollywood A-listers and other high-profile athletes and public figures. Facebook created the “cross check” program for quality-control purposes in reviewing actions taken on high-profile accounts, explaining to the Board that it only applied to “a small number of decisions.”

But the program has apparently grown to include 5.8 million VIP users in 2020, according to leaked documents provided to the Journal. These whitelisted accounts are exempt from the content enforcement rules that Facebook’s 3 billion users are subject to on the platform.

“In the Board’s view, the team within Facebook tasked to provide information has not been fully forthcoming in its responses on cross-check. On some occasions, Facebook failed to provide relevant information to the Board, while in other instances, the information it did provide was incomplete,” the report said.

Following the Board’s recommendations, Facebook said it will share documents concerning the cross-check program with board members, as well as “provide information about the wider context” on any relevant cases in the future. Facebook will get guidance from the board on how to fairly approach its cross-check cases and evaluate the criteria used to determine who makes the whitelist.

“This should give a fuller understanding of the work Facebook has already done on a given topic. We will include analysis on whether Facebook is fulfilling this commitment in our future transparency reporting,” the board said.