Meta Platforms Inc. has long given unfair deference to VIP users of its Facebook and Instagram services under a program called “cross check” and has misled the public about the program, the company’s oversight board concluded in a report issued Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the report offers the most detailed review of cross check, which Meta has billed as a quality-control effort to prevent moderation errors on content of heightened public interest. The oversight board took up the issue more than a year ago in the wake of a Wall Street Journal article based on the internal documents that showed that cross check was plagued by favoritism, mismanagement and understaffing.
Meta’s Oversight Board posted information titled: “Oversight Board publishes policy advisory opinion on Meta’s cross-check program”. From the information:
Key Findings: The Board recognizes that the volume and complexity of content posted on Facebook and Instagram pose challenges for building systems that uphold Meta’s human rights commitments. However, in its current form, cross-check is flawed in key areas which the company must address:
Unequal treatment of users. Cross-check grants certain users greater protection than others. If a post from a user on Meta’s cross-check lists is identified as violating the company’s rules, it remains on the platform pending further review. Meta then applies its full range of policies, including exceptions and context-specific provisions, to the post, likely increasing its chances of remaining on the platform.
Ordinary users, by contrast, are much less likely to have their content reach reviewers who can apply the full range of Meta’s rules. This unequal treatment is particularly concerning given the lack of transparent criteria for Meta’s cross-check lists. While there are clear criteria for including business partners and government leaders, users whose content is likely to be important from a human rights perspective, such as journalists and civil society organizations, have less clear paths to access the program.
Lack of transparency around how cross-check works. The Board is also concerned about the limited information Meta has provided to the public and its users about cross-check. Currently, Meta does not inform users that they are on cross check lists and does not publicly share its procedures for creating and auditing these lists. It is unclear, for example, whether entities that continuously post violating content are kept on cross-check lists based on their profile. This lack of transparency impedes the Board and the public from understanding the full consequences of the program.
NPR reported that the board said Meta appeared to be more concerned with avoiding “provoking” VIPs and evading accusations of censorship than balancing tricky questions of free speech and safety. It called for the overhaul of the “flawed” program in a report on Tuesday that included wide-ranging recommendations to bring the program in line with international principles and Meta’s own stated values.
Personally, I don’t think it is fair for Meta to pick and choose which users are exempt from Meta’s rules about what people can, and can not, post. Hopefully, the Oversight Board’s review will require Meta to treat all users equally.