Facebook created secret elite tier of users who didn’t have to follow content rules

Facebook created secret elite tier of users who didn’t have to follow content rules
The programme had nearly 6 million users in 2020

Facebook secretly maintained an elite tier of users known as “XCheck,” exempting millions of VIPS, including athletes and politicians, from the social networking giant’s normal content moderation rules.

As a result, posts featuring material that would normally be classified as revenge porn and misinformation made their way to millions of users, a new Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

The XCheck policy, which stands for “cross check,” was originally created as a quality control measure, allowing Facebook more latitude to consider content moderation decisions relating to high-profile users of the site.

Now, according to internal documents reviewed by the Journal, it’s used by millions, who often face little to no pushback when their posts cross the line, compared to normal Facebook users.

In 2019, for example, soccer star Neymar made posts that included nude photos of a woman who had accused him of rape, which normally would’ve been deleted.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward, however, was on the XCheck list, which kept Facebook moderators from taking down the post for more than a day, exposing it to more than 50 million people. Moreover, as opposed to the site’s normal “one strike” policy on disabling profiles which post such content, his account was able to remain active after the case went “to leadership,” documents reveal.

(Neymar denied the rape allegation, and no charges against him were ever filed.)

Other posts by XCheck influential users included misinformation about Hillary Clinton and medical science.

In a 2019 memo, Facebook researchers accused the company of “knowingly exposing users to misinformation that we have the processes and resources to mitigate.”

That same year, an internal review from Facebook tore into the elite user status, calling it “not publicly defensible” and a major “breach of trust.”

“We are not actually doing what we say we do publicly,” the review noted. “Unlike the rest of our community, these people can violate our standards without any consequences.”

An individual seeking whistleblower protection has reportedly handed over some of the internal documents viewed as part of the Journal investigation to the Securities and Exchange Commission, a regulator which examines financial fraud.

The social networking site defended its content practices and told the Journal that it is fading out elements of the XCheck programme.

The policy “was designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding,” a spokesperson wrote, adding, “A lot of this internal material is outdated information stitched together to create a narrative that glosses over the most important point: Facebook itself identified the issues with cross check and has been working to address them.”

There were nearly 5.8 million XCheck users in 2020.