Policy

'Not acceptable': Facebook Oversight Board will review cross-check system

The board is taking Facebook up on a request to review its system for vetting posts by high-profile users, which drew scrutiny after recent reporting in the Wall Street Journal.

The Facebook app icon displayed on a smartphone

Facebook's Oversight Board shared its first transparency reports.

Photo by Brett Jordan/Unsplash

Facebook's Oversight Board said Thursday that the company's failure to be transparent about the two-track system it uses to vet posts by high-profile users — known internally as "cross-check" — was "not acceptable." The board agreed to take Facebook up on its request to review the policy and issue guidance on how Facebook should deal with content violations by prominent users.

The board condemned Facebook's lack of transparency and announced this decision as part of its first quarterly transparency reports, which cover the period from October 2020 to the end of June 2021. During that time, the board was reviewing Facebook's decision to ban former President Donald Trump from the platform.

"When Facebook referred the case related to former US President Trump to the board, it did not mention the cross-check system," the board wrote in its report. "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 crosscheck, this omission is not acceptable."

Facebook's cross-check system drew scrutiny after a Wall Street Journal exposé based on whistleblower Frances Haugen's disclosures illustrated how the company was giving some of its most famous users more leeway on content violations. The board will now assess Facebook's criteria for who makes it into that system, as well as how to ensure it is fair, objective and transparent.

"Facebook has also agreed that, from now on, it commits to provide information about the wider context which may be relevant to the board's case decisions," the report read. "This should give a fuller understanding of the work Facebook has already done on a given topic."

The board shared additional data on its work so far, which reveals limitations to the board's international reach abroad and a hyper-focus on the outcome of the Trump case in the board's early days. Of the roughly half-million appeals the board received between October and the end of June, just under 46% came from the U.S. and Canada, with another 21.8% of appeals coming from Europe. These stats mirror, in some ways, concerns about Facebook's own fixation on North American and European countries.

"We do not believe this represents the actual distribution of Facebook content issues around the globe," the board wrote. "If anything, we have reason to believe that users in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East experience more, not fewer, problems with Facebook than parts of the world with more appeals."

The board said it's working to expand its reach in other parts of the world and encouraged "users and civil society organizations" to bring their concerns to the board.

The report also shows that the overwhelming majority of comments the board received were related to its decision (or lack thereof) regarding Trump's account. The board received 9,842 public comments overall, a whopping 9,666 of which were related to Trump. At the time, the board pushed the decision back on to Facebook, which decided to continue Trump's suspension until at least 2023.

Policy

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Photo illustration: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images; Protocol

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JoeWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Policy

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O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

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Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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