After the scandal of leaked documents revealed by the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal about Facebook, the company’s semi-independent supervisory board announced that it would review the company’s XCheck system, It is an internal program that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of the platform's usage rules.
The Oversight Board, an external body set up by Facebook to assess the company's systems and actions, said it had contacted the company and expected to be briefed in the coming days.
The oversight board's announcement comes on the back of a series of investigations by the Wall Street Journal that revealed that reviews of posts by well-known users such as celebrities, politicians, and journalists are being routed to a separate system called XCheck.
Under the system, some users are whitelisted and may not be subject to enforcement action, while others are allowed to post material that violates Facebook's rules. For example, the Xcheck system allowed Brazilian player Neymar to post nude photos of a woman who accused him of rape, according to the American newspaper report.
The Wall Street Journal had found that users were selected for further scrutiny based on criteria such as being worthy of publication, influencers or famous or people who influence the company's reputation. By 2020, there were 5.8 million users on XCheck's list, according to the newspaper.
XCheck was initially intended as a quality control measure for actions taken against high-profile accounts, including celebrities, politicians, and journalists. But the list has grown to include millions of accounts, according to documents seen by the newspaper.
Despite the oversight board's announcement, Facebook is not obligated to follow or implement its recommendations. The oversight board said the Wall Street Journal report drew attention to the seemingly inconsistent way the company makes its decisions, and why there is greater transparency and independent oversight on Facebook which is so important to users.
More powerful defense
In a related context, the New York Times reported that Facebook launched a new initiative last January called “Project Amplify” to improve its image in the eyes of its users, which includes publishing positive stories about the company in the place designated for the news feed.
But the move was sensitive because Facebook had never before used its News Feed as a place to burnish its reputation. An attendee said many executives at the meeting were shocked by the proposal, the newspaper reported.
Since that meeting in January, the company has launched a multi-pronged effort to change its image and keep CEO Mark Zuckerberg off-target, reduce access to internal data, hide a potentially negative report about its content and increase its own advertising to showcase its brand.
For years, the Facebook platform has faced successive crises over privacy, misinformation, and hate speech. By publicly apologizing, Zuckerberg personally took responsibility for Russian interference with the site during the 2016 US presidential election and loudly advocated for freedom of expression online. The company also promised transparency in the way it operates.
But the series of criticisms continued on issues as diverse as racist rhetoric and misinformation about vaccines against the emerging covid-19, which increased the indignation of Facebook employees who spoke out against the company and leaked internal documents published by the Wall Street Journal in its investigations since last week, as the New York Times says.
For years, current and former employees of the company who spoke to The New York Times say, Facebook executives have resented the way their company appears to receive more scrutiny than Google and Twitter.
They added that they attributed the interest to Facebook leaving itself more exposed with its apologies and access to internal data.