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Author Topic: Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All 1/2  (Read 7 times)

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Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All 1/2
« on: September 14, 2021, 04:12:09 PM »
Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt.

A program known as XCheck has given millions of celebrities, politicians, and other high-profile users special treatment, a privilege many abuse.

users to speak on equal footing with the elites of politics, culture and journalism, and that its standards of behavior apply to everyone, no matter their status or fame.

In private, the company has built a system that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules, according to company documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The program, known as “cross check” or “XCheck,” was initially intended as a quality-control measure for actions taken against high-profile accounts, including celebrities, politicians and journalists. Today, it shields millions of VIP users from the company’s normal enforcement process, the documents show. Some users are “whitelisted”—rendered immune from enforcement actions—while others are allowed to post rule-violating material pending Facebook employee reviews that often never come.

At times, the documents show, XCheck has protected public figures whose posts contain harassment or incitement to violence, violations that would typically lead to sanctions for regular users. In 2019, it allowed international soccer star Neymar to show nude photos of a woman, who had accused him of rape, to tens of millions of his fans before the content was removed by Facebook. Whitelisted accounts shared inflammatory claims that Facebook’s fact-checkers deemed false, including that vaccines are deadly, that Hillary Clinton had covered up “pedophile rings,” and that then-President Donald Trump had called all refugees seeking asylum “animals,” according to the documents.

A 2019 internal review of Facebook’s whitelisting practices, marked attorney-client privileged, found favoritism to those users to be both widespread and “not publicly defensible.”

“We are not actually doing what we say we do publicly,” said the confidential review. It called the company’s actions “a breach of trust” and added: “Unlike the rest of our community, these people can violate our standards without any consequences.”

Despite attempts to rein it in, XCheck grew to include at least 5.8 million users in 2020, documents show. In its struggle to accurately moderate a torrent of content and avoid negative attention, Facebook created invisible elite tiers within the social network.

In describing the system, Facebook has misled the public and its own Oversight Board, a body that Facebook created to ensure the accountability of the company’s enforcement systems.


Source: 2019 Facebook internal review of the XCheck program, marked attorney-client privileged

In June, Facebook told the Oversight Board in writing that its system for high-profile users was used in “a small number of decisions.”

In a written statement, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said criticism of XCheck was fair, but added that the system “was designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding.”


At Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
PHOTO: IAN BATES FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


He said Facebook has been accurate in its communications to the board and that the company is continuing to work to phase out the practice of whitelisting. “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,” he said.


Internal documents

The documents that describe XCheck are part of an extensive array of internal Facebook communications reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. They show that Facebook knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands.

Moreover, the documents show, Facebook often lacks the will or the ability to address them.

This is the first in a series of articles based on those documents and on interviews with dozens of current and former employees.

At least some of the documents have been turned over to the Securities and Exchange Commission and to Congress by a person seeking federal whistleblower protection, according to people familiar with the matter.

Facebook’s stated ambition has long been to connect people. As it expanded over the past 17 years, from Harvard undergraduates to billions of global users, it struggled with the messy reality of bringing together disparate voices with different motivations—from people wishing each other happy birthday to Mexican drug cartels conducting business on the platform. Those problems increasingly consume the company.

Time and again, the documents show, in the U.S. and overseas, Facebook’s own researchers have identified the platform’s ill effects, in areas including teen mental health, political discourse, and human trafficking. Time and again, despite congressional hearings, its own pledges, and numerous media exposés, the company didn’t fix them.

Sometimes the company held back for fear of hurting its business. In other cases, Facebook made changes that backfired. Even Mr. Zuckerberg’s pet initiatives have been thwarted by his own systems and algorithms.

The documents include research reports, online employee discussions, and drafts of presentations to senior management, including Mr. Zuckerberg. They aren’t the result of idle grumbling, but rather the formal work of teams whose job was to examine the social network and figure out how it could improve.

They offer perhaps the clearest picture thus far of how broadly Facebook’s problems are known inside the company, up to the CEO himself. And when Facebook speaks publicly about many of these issues, to lawmakers, regulators, and, in the case of XCheck, its own Oversight Board, it often provides misleading or partial answers, masking how much it knows.


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, right, at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in 2019.
PHOTO: ANDREW HARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESS


One area in which the company hasn’t struggled is profitability. In the past five years, during which it has been under intense scrutiny and roiled by internal debate, Facebook has generated a profit of more than $100 billion. The company is currently valued at more than $1 trillion.


Rough justice

For ordinary users, Facebook dispenses a kind of rough justice in assessing whether posts meet the company’s rules against bullying, sexual content, hate speech, and incitement to violence. Sometimes the company’s automated systems summarily delete or bury content suspected of rule violations without a human review. At other times, material flagged by those systems or by users is assessed by content moderators employed by outside companies.


Source: 2019 Facebook internal review of the XCheck program, marked attorney-client privileged

Mr. Zuckerberg estimated in 2018 that Facebook gets 10% of its content removal decisions wrong, and, depending on the enforcement action taken, users might never be told what rule they violated or be given a chance to appeal.

Users designated for XCheck review, however, are treated more deferentially. Facebook designed the system to minimize what its employees have described in the documents as “PR fires”—negative media attention that comes from botched enforcement actions taken against VIPs.


If Facebook’s systems conclude that one of those accounts might have broken its rules, they don’t remove the content—at least not right away, the documents indicate. They route the complaint into a separate system, staffed by better-trained, full-time employees, for additional layers of review.

Most Facebook employees were able to add users into the XCheck system, the documents say, and a 2019 audit found that at least 45 teams around the company were involved in whitelisting. Users aren’t generally told that they have been tagged for special treatment. An internal guide to XCheck eligibility cites qualifications including being “newsworthy,” “influential or popular” or “PR risky.”

Neymar, the Brazilian soccer star whose full name is Neymar da Silva Santos Jr., easily qualified. With more than 150 million followers, Neymar’s account on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is one of the most popular in the world.

After a woman accused Neymar of rape in 2019, he posted Facebook and Instagram videos defending himself—and showing viewers his WhatsApp correspondence with his accuser, which included her name and nude photos of her. He accused the woman of extorting him.


Brazilian soccer star Neymar, left, in Rio de Janeiro in 2019.
PHOTO: LEO CORREA/ASSOCIATED PRESS


Facebook’s standard procedure for handling the posting of “nonconsensual intimate imagery” is simple: Delete it. But Neymar was protected by XCheck.

For more than a day, the system blocked Facebook’s moderators from removing the video. An internal review of the incident found that 56 million Facebook and Instagram users saw what Facebook described in a separate document as “revenge porn,” exposing the woman to what an employee referred to in the review as abuse from other users.

“This included the video being reposted more than 6,000 times, bullying and harassment about her character,” the review found.

Facebook’s operational guidelines stipulate that not only should unauthorized nude photos be deleted, but that people who post them should have their accounts deleted.

“After escalating the case to leadership,” the review said, “we decided to leave Neymar’s accounts active, a departure from our usual ‘one strike’ profile disable policy.”

Neymar denied the rape allegation, and no charges were filed against him. The woman was charged by Brazilian authorities with slander, extortion and fraud. The first two charges were dropped, and she was acquitted of the third. A spokesperson for Neymar said the athlete adheres to Facebook’s rules and declined to comment further.

The lists of those enrolled in XCheck were “scattered throughout the company, without clear governance or ownership,” according to a “Get Well Plan” from last year. “This results in not applying XCheck to those who pose real risks and on the flip-side, applying XCheck to those that do not deserve it (such as abusive accounts, persistent violators). These have created PR fires.”


In practice, Facebook appeared more concerned with avoiding gaffes than mitigating high-profile abuse. One Facebook review in 2019 of major XCheck errors showed that of 18 incidents investigated, 16 involved instances where the company erred in actions taken against prominent users.

Four of the 18 touched on inadvertent enforcement actions against content from Mr. Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr. Other flubbed enforcement actions were taken against the accounts of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, fashion model Sunnaya Nash, and Mr. Zuckerberg himself, whose live-streamed employee Q&A had been suppressed after an algorithm classified it as containing misinformation.


Pulling content

Historically, Facebook contacted some VIP users who violated platform policies and provided a “self-remediation window” of 24 hours to delete violating content on their own before Facebook took it down and applied penalties.

Mr. Stone, the company spokesman, said Facebook has phased out that perk, which was still in place during the 2020 elections. He declined to say when it ended.

At times, pulling content from a VIP’s account requires approval from senior executives on the communications and public-policy teams, or even from Mr. Zuckerberg or Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, according to people familiar with the matter.

In June 2020, a Trump post came up during a discussion about XCheck’s hidden rules that took place on the company’s internal communications platform, called Facebook Workplace. The previous month, Mr. Trump said in a post: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

A Facebook manager noted that an automated system, designed by the company to detect whether a post violates its rules, had scored Mr. Trump’s post 90 out of 100, indicating a high likelihood it violated the platform’s rules.

For a normal user post, such a score would result in the content being removed as soon as a single person reported it to Facebook. Instead, as Mr. Zuckerberg publicly acknowledged last year, he personally made the call to leave the post up. “Making a manual decision like this seems less defensible than algorithmic scoring and actioning,” the manager wrote.

Mr. Trump’s account was covered by XCheck before his two-year suspension from Facebook in June. So too are those belonging to members of his family, Congress, and the European Union Parliament, along with mayors, civic activists, and dissidents.


Those included in the XCheck program, according to Facebook documents, include, in the top row: Neymar,
Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Mark Zuckerberg, and in the bottom row, Elizabeth Warren, Dan Scavino,
Candace Owens, and Doug the Pug.
PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS; GETTY IMAGES (3); REUTERS (2); ASSOCIATED PRESS; PRESS POOL


While the program included most government officials, it didn’t include all candidates for public office, at times effectively granting incumbents in elections an advantage over challengers. The discrepancy was most prevalent in state and local races, the documents show, and employees worried Facebook could be subject to accusations of favoritism.

Mr. Stone acknowledged the concern but said the company had worked to address it. “We made multiple efforts to ensure that both in federal and nonfederal races, challengers as well as incumbents were included in the program,” he said.

The program covers pretty much anyone regularly in the media or who has a substantial online following, including film stars, cable talk-show hosts, academics, and online personalities with large followings. On Instagram, XCheck covers accounts for popular animal influencers including “Doug the Pug.”


Source: August 2020 Facebook internal presentation called "Political Influence on Content
Policy"


In practice, most of the content flagged by the XCheck system faced no subsequent review, the documents show.

Even when the company does review the material, enforcement delays like the one on Neymar’s posts mean content that should have been prohibited can spread to large audiences. Last year, XCheck allowed posts that violated its rules to be viewed at least 16.4 billion times, before later being removed, according to a summary of the program in late December.

Facebook recognized years ago that the enforcement exemptions granted by its XCheck system were unacceptable, with protections sometimes granted to what it called abusive accounts and persistent violators of the rules, the documents show. Nevertheless, the program expanded over time, with tens of thousands of accounts added just last year.

In addition, Facebook has asked fact-checking partners to retroactively change their findings on posts from high-profile accounts, waived standard punishments for propagating what it classifies as misinformation, and even altered planned changes to its algorithms to avoid political fallout.

“Facebook currently has no firewall to insulate content-related decisions from external pressures,” a September 2020 memo by a Facebook senior research scientist states, describing daily interventions in its rule-making and enforcement process by both Facebook’s public-policy team and senior executives.

A December memo from another Facebook data scientist was blunter: “Facebook routinely makes exceptions for powerful actors.”

source
part 2 ►
« Last Edit: September 14, 2021, 05:39:14 PM by javajolt »