Facebook oversight board rebukes company for withholding information about how it moderates VIP users

Photo (c) David Tran - Getty Images

The board says the company has to do more when it comes to fairness, objectivity, and transparency

Facebook got a rude awakening on Thursday when the company’s oversight board reprimanded it for holding back pertinent details about the platform’s content moderation cross-check system, which is used to review content decisions related to high-profile users. 

The board was primarily concerned that Facebook’s content moderation system apparently gives millions of Facebook VIP users a hall pass when it came to moderating or removing some types of content. Compared to “regular” users, the VIPs didn’t have to jump through any of the standard procedure hoops that the company uses to minimize or remove the reach of posts that defied its policies.

How much did Facebook hide from the oversight board? The members said they sent 156 questions to Facebook about decisions it published through the end of June. In response, Facebook answered 130, partially answered 12, and declined to answer 14. Many of the cases that Facebook declined to comment on concerned a user’s previous behavior on the company’s platform.

Concerns over how the Trump suspension was handled

The board chastised Facebook for its failure to include specific details of its cross-check program in the case of former President Donald Trump’s suspension from the platform.

“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 its report. 

Board members then went after the company for showing a lack of transparency about the matter. “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,” they stated.

Facebook asks for forgiveness

With little room to escape the oversight board’s condemnation, Facebook admitted to its faults and said the board should review the cross-check program going forward. The oversight board agreed to review the cross-check program and will offer its opinion on how to change the program so that it's more objective, transparent, and fair. 

“In areas where we feel that Facebook is falling short, such as transparency, we will keep challenging the company to do better. We will do this through our decisions, recommendations, and regular transparency reporting, including our annual report which we will publish next year,” the board said in its report.

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