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Facebook given sharp warning by its own watchdog over special rules for celebrities

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 21 October 2021 13:47

Facebook has been given a sharp warning by its own watchdog over its “cross-check” system for celebrities.

Facebook’s Oversight Board said that the company had failed to give the information on how it makes decisions about content posted by its high-profile users.

It also said that it would accept a request from Facebook itself to review the system, and make recommendations on how it can be changed.

It also criticised Facebook for failing to answer other questions from the board, which it said was hindering its attempts to “provide users and researchers with as much information as possible about how the company works”.

Cross-check is a system used by Facebook to give special rules to the most high-profile users of the site. It is not clear exactly how those high-profile users are chosen, or how exactly the system works.

Interest in the system has risen since recent reports in the Wall Street Journal, which were part of a range of disclosures that also revealed Facebook research showing that the company knew that Instagram could be harming young girls.

In the wake of those disclosures, the Oversight Board said that it would look into “whether Facebook had been forthcoming in its responses on its cross-check system”.

It found that “the team within Facebook tasked with providing information has not been fully forthcoming on cross-check”. “On some occasions, Facebook failed to provide relevant information to the Board, while in other instances, the information it did provide was incomplete,” it said.

It pointed to the fact that despite the Oversight Board being asked to look at the decision to ban Donald Trump from Facebook, and the presumption that the former president would be covered by the cross-check system, Facebook did not mention it when providing information on that case.

Facebook is also criticised for suggesting that cross-check only applied to a “small number of decisions” when providing information to the Oversight Board.

The watchdog also said that Facebook had failed to provide any “meaningful transparency on the criteria for accounts or pages being selected for inclusion in cross-check”.

The Oversight Board was established by Facebook to review its decisions, and has been likened to a supreme court. Though it is funded by Facebook, it says it is run entirely independently.

It said that its “credibility” as well as its “working relationship with Facebook, and our ability to render sound judgments on cases all depend on being able to trust that information provided to us by Facebook is accurate, comprehensive, and paints a full picture of the topic at hand”.

The Oversight board said that it would continue to work to ensure that Facebook was providing the proper information it required to do its job, as well as undertaking work to understand how the cross-check system might be improved.

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