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.