Facebook has long championed its (and its cohort’s) rigid and equal moderation rules as indicative of its commitment to safety, quality and privacy. But, much like WhatsApp’s promise of perfectly private end-to-end encryption, this is a bit of a fib. According to documents unearthed by a Wall Street Journal investigation, Facebook has a bit of a whitelist, the members of which get to post whatever they want, whenever they want, without consequences.
Some Facebook users are more equal than others
Facebook has a pretty straightforward moderation system, with an equally simple penalty system to match. If you say or post something out of line, like someone else’s personal information or non-consensual explicit material (in the vein of revenge porn), your post gets flagged by an algorithm, checked, and taken down. If you break a particularly important rule you can have your account suspended or even deleted.
Not so for the elites, it seems. See, 5.8 million of them are signed up to a special program called XCheck (cross check). Members of XCheck include high-profile figures, celebrities, and politicians. Users with significant followings they can impose their influence on.
See, Facebook understands the power of a strong following, having an impressive user-base of its own, and it doesn’t want influential figures to vocalise their displeasure to their droves of loyal fans should it remove their posts and penalise their accounts. That might cause a PR storm and hurt its image. So instead, their posts are checked by a different algorithm. Facebook moderates them separately, and gives them some leeway over what they can say and post.
Of course, there are supposed to be some things out of bounds even for influential figures, but XCheck’s moderation team even lets some of those things slide from time to time. See, it hasn’t really been able to keep up with XCheck’s rapidly growing use list. In one of the documents the Wall Street Journal dug up, it was stated that, “We currently review less than 10% of XChecked content.”
The result is that certain high-profile figures get off scot-free for misdemeanours that would usually see a user booted off of the platform. Facebook says XCheck doesn’t give special privileges to influential accounts, but rather acts as a second layer of review to prevent flubbed moderation. But then, of course it would say that.