Facebook’s oversight board said Tuesday that it will investigate XCheck, a secret VIP program, first reported on last week by the Wall Street Journal, that exempts A-list users from the platform’s normal content review standards. However, the board did not detail any specific means for how it would respond to whatever findings the investigation produces.
“In light of recent developments, we are looking into the degree to which Facebook has been fully forthcoming in its responses in relation to cross-check, including the practice of whitelisting,” the oversight board said in a statement Tuesday night. “The Board has reached out to Facebook to request they provide further clarity about the information previously shared with us. 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.”
According to the Journal, the “cross check” program was initially created for quality-control purposes, in order to review actions that were taken on high-profile accounts. According to internal Facebook documents obtained by the Journal, the initiative later expanded to give preferential treatment to millions of whitelisted users who were exempted from certain enforcement actions that apply to the other 3 billion Facebook users worldwide.
As a result, users of sufficiently high status were protected from suspension for violating Facebook’s content rules. According to the Journal, XCheck protected users included soccer star Neymar, former President Donald Trump, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Dan Scavino, Candace Owens and Doug the Pug and even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
In its statement, the oversight board says it has asked Facebook “to explain how its cross-check system works,” and “urged the company to share the criteria for adding pages and accounts to cross-check as well as to report on relative error rates of determinations made through cross-check, compared with its ordinary enforcement procedures.”
Alas, according to the oversight board, “in its response, Facebook provided an explanation of cross-check but did not elaborate criteria for adding pages and accounts to the system, and declined to provide reporting on error rates.”
It appears the board is counting on public pressure rather than internal efforts to achieve any sort of resolution. “Steering Facebook towards greater transparency will be a collective effort. Journalists, academics and civil society all have an essential role to play in holding Facebook accountable,” the board said in its statement. “By providing crucial independent oversight, we are proud to be part of this. Over time, we believe that the precedents of our decisions and the cumulative impact of our recommendations will help make Facebook’s approach more consistent, more transparent, and better for users across the globe. That is a goal worth pursuing.”
It’s unclear what, if any, enforcement mechanism exists should Facebook not comply.
Read the full statement here.