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Facebook's Oversight Board releases quarterly transparency report, says company wasn’t ‘forthcoming’

The board commented that Facebook 'failed to provide relevant information to the Board' on issues of how the social media company makes decisions and allow some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions.

October 21, 2021 / 08:48 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

Facebook Inc.’s Oversight Board on October 21 published its quarterly transparency report and said that the social media giant had not been 'fully forthcoming' with the board on its ‘cross-check’ system.

The board commented that Facebook 'failed to provide relevant information to the Board' on issues of how the social media company makes decisions and allow some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions. The board even concluded that Facebook provided incomplete information.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal disclosed cross-check system which was originally intended to be a quality-control measure for a select few high-profile users who mistakenly have their posts taken down, but had ballooned to include millions of accounts.

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"In the Board’s view, 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," the board said in its quarterly report.

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In the case of former US President Donald Trump, Facebook referred the case to the board, but didn't mention its internal 'cross-check system' which allowed for a different set of rules for high-profile users. Facebook only mentioned cross-check, or XCheck, to the board when the board asked if Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.

Though in subsequent briefing, Facebook admitted it should not have said that cross-check only applied to a 'small number of decisions'. "Facebook noted that for teams operating at the scale of millions of content decisions a day, the numbers involved with cross-check seem relatively small, but recognised its phrasing could come across as misleading," the report added.

The board assured that they will continue to track and report on information provided by Facebook to ensure it is as comprehensive and complete as possible. The Board has also announced it has accepted a request from Facebook, in the form of a policy advisory opinion, to review the company’s cross-check system and make recommendations on how it can be changed.

Meanwhile, Facebook has requested guidance from the board on how to ensure fairness and objectivity in cross-check reviews, taking into account context; how to govern cross-check and promote transparency; and the criteria it uses to determine who is included in cross-check and how to ensure this is equitable.

According to the insights of the quarterly report, Oversight Board will issue their recommendations to Facebook on future transparency reporting. Also, Facebook has agreed to share with the board relevant documents about the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal. Facebook has the time to respond within 30 days following the suggestions and recommendations of the Board.

Since January 2021, the Oversight Board has pushed Facebook to reveal more information about how it works and to treat its users fairly. It has so far taken on 20 important cases and issued 17 decisions covering topics from hate speech to COVID-19 misinformation.

Between October 2020 and the end of June 2021, Facebook and Instagram users submitted around 5,24,000 cases to the Board. The report said that appeals of users increased each quarter, with around 114,000 cases in the fourth quarter of 2020, 2,03,000 cases in the first quarter of 2021, and around 2,07,000 cases in the second quarter of 2021.
Saurav Mukherjee

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