Facebook withheld information about its VIP program, Oversight Board says

Facebook withheld information about its VIP program, Oversight Board says
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Facebook failed to provide its Oversight Board with information about its cross-check system that reportedly kept certain VIP users — including former President TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE — from facing the platform’s content moderation policies, the board said Thursday. 

The board said Facebook “has not been fully forthcoming on cross-check," accusing the company of failing to provide "relevant information" or providing information that was "incomplete." 

The board highlighted concerns about Facebook’s apparent withholding of information about the system when sending the board the case related to the suspension of Trump’s account. 

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“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,” the board wrote in a blog post published alongside its quarterly transparency report. 

“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 Wall Street Journal revealed information about Facebook’s use of the cross-check system to review content decisions for high-profile users as part of a recent series of reports based on leaked internal documents.

The Journal reported that the cross-check program included at least 5.8 million users in 2020 and at times allegedly protected public figures whose posts contained harassment or incitement of violence. 

Trump's Facebook account was among those covered by cross-check before it was suspended, according to the Journal's report. In one example in mid-2020, Trump posted “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” in response to racial justice protests. The post was deemed likely to violate Facebook's normal rules for users but was not removed.

After the release of the Journal's report — among others in the series that led to widespread backlash targeting the tech giant — Facebook requested the Oversight Board form a policy advisory opinion to review the cross-checks system and recommend changes. 

The board said the company accepted the request and that Facebook has agreed to share the documents with the board regarding the cross-check as reported in the Journal. 

Unlike with content moderation decisions, the board’s policy advisory recommendations are not binding, meaning Facebook will not need to implement any recommendations the board makes regarding changing the cross-check system.

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill that it would try to do better in the future. 

“We thank the board for their ongoing work and for issuing their transparency report," the spokesperson said. "We believe the board's work has been impactful, which is why we asked the board for input into our cross-check system, and we will strive to be clearer in our explanations to them going forward.”