Facebook Exempts Popular And Celebrity Accounts From Its Rules, Internal Documents Show: REPORT

  • Facebook is exempting certain popular accounts from its platform rules, according to company documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
  • Under the XCheck content review system, posts made by certain “whitelisted” accounts that are flagged by Facebook’s algorithms as breaking the rules will instead be subject to a separate content review process performed by full-time Facebook employees.
  • Celebrities who are or were “whitelisted” under the XCheck system include former President Donald Trump, Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
  • Internal company documents show Facebook recognized the flaws in its XCheck system and was attempting to fix the program, but the list of accounts granted special privileges under the system continued to grow as employees continued to add users.

Facebook is exempting certain popular accounts from its platform rules, according to company documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Facebook has constructed a content review system known as “XCheck” that privileges certain high-profile and celebrity accounts, allowing them to engage in conduct that would otherwise be against the platform’s rules and applying different review criteria to their posts, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Traditionally, Facebook uses an automated review system to determine whether a post may have violated the platform’s rules, and removes or suppresses the offending content without human review, according to the WSJ. In some cases, Facebook outsources its content review process to humans working in other companies. (RELATED: Researchers Claim Facebook Threatened To Sue Them Unless They Shut Down Project)

However, under the XCheck content review system, posts made by certain “whitelisted” accounts that are flagged by Facebook’s algorithms as breaking the rules will instead be subject to a separate content review process performed by full-time Facebook employees, according to the WSJ. This process often does not enforce Facebook’s rules on privileged accounts.

For example, Brazilian soccer star Neymar posted nude photos of a woman on his Facebook account in 2019 without her consent, in a bid to defend himself against rape allegations. The XCheck system initially prevented moderators from removing the photos or taking action against Neymar’s account, according to the WSJ, and the nude photos were seen by up to 56 million Facebook users.

Other celebrities who are or were “whitelisted” under the XCheck system include former President Donald Trump, Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, according to the WSJ. Incumbent political candidates were whitelisted in some cases while their challengers were not, raising concerns among Facebook employees that the company was privileging certain candidates, the WSJ reported.

In a series of tweets, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone pushed back against the WSJ’s reporting that Facebook applied different standards to certain accounts.

“There aren’t two systems of justice; it’s an attempted safeguard against mistakes,” Stone tweeted, characterizing XCheck as a way to ensure Facebook does not mistakenly remove content of a high-profile account.

Most of Facebook’s employees are authorized to whitelist accounts and add them to the XCheck review system, according to the WSJ. In some cases, accounts are whitelisted without record of who authorized the designation, or why. (RELATED: Facebook Files Petition Demanding FTC Chair Lina Khan Recuse Herself From Antitrust Case)

Facebook also had a policy to contact high-profile accounts and give them the opportunity to remove offending content before the company took action, though that policy is no longer in place, Stone told the WSJ.

Internal company documents show Facebook recognized the flaws in its XCheck system and was attempting to fix the program, but the list of accounts granted special privileges under the system continued to grow as employees continued to add users. The company concluded the system “pose[d] numerous legal, compliance, and legitimacy risks for the company and harm to our community,” according to documents reviewed by the WSJ.

Facebook also informed its Oversight Board, a body of academics and experts that review certain Facebook content moderation actions, that the XCheck system was only used for a “small number” of content reviews, according to communications seen by the WSJ. In reality more than 5.8 million users are subject to the XCheck system, according to the WSJ.

“The Oversight Board has expressed on multiple occasions its concern about the lack of transparency in Facebook’s content moderation processes, especially relating to the company’s inconsistent management of high-profile accounts,” Oversight Board spokesman John Taylor told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“The Board has repeatedly made recommendations that Facebook be far more transparent in general, including about its management of high-profile accounts, while ensuring that its policies treat all users fairly,” Taylor added.

Facebook did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment. (RELATED: Should Biden Help Facebook Censor ‘Disinformation’?)

The revelations come following criticism by the White House and others of Facebook’s content moderation policies and lack of transparency. President Joe Biden declared in July that Facebook’s misinformation policies were “killing people,” before walking the comment back.

The company also drew fire for suspending the accounts of New York University researchers studying misinformation in political advertising. The New York Times reported in August that Facebook planned to create an election commission to advise the tech giant on issues related to election misinformation and political ads.

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