A long investigation of Wall Street Journal describes the differences in treatment enjoyed by a few million privileged people on Facebook, in an institutionalized manner and despite discourse on equality.
Is everyone in the same boat on Facebook? Yes, if we are to believe the official policy defended by Mark Zuckerberg, according to which elites and ordinary citizens have the same rights and obey the same rules. In fact, things are more mixed, as described in Wall Street Journal, which has just published a particularly exhaustive survey on the culture of exception on the platform.
6 million VIPs on Facebook
Our colleagues thus reveal the existence of a program called XCheck, initially created to protect the holders of very popular accounts on Facebook, such as those of celebrities, politicians or journalists. The data and documents they have been able to consult show that, little by little, this program has spread to the point of “whitelisting” millions of Facebook users considered as VIPs, sheltered from moderation. and allowed to post content that violates the rules. In total, more than 5.8 million Facebook members are said to be protected by this program.
It would exist according to the Wall Street Journal numerous documents attesting to the privileges that influential public figures may have enjoyed in situations where any ordinary user would have been sanctioned, including cases of harassment or incitement to violence. At a time when Facebook is absolutely keen to communicate on the resources invested in the fight against the proliferation of infox, knowing that privileged accounts can engage in speeches riddled with fake news without fear necessarily stains.
A thorny report from 2019
Documented by an internal investigation conducted in 2019, this favoritism was qualified as “widespread” and “publicly indefensible”. Sign that the management of Facebook is perfectly aware of the problem that this poses. In this report, it is about “breach of trust”. We can also read: “We don’t really do what we say publicly […] Unlike the rest of our community, these people can break our rules without any consequences. “.
One can logically wonder about the role of the Supervisory Committee created by Facebook as the ultimate “independent” moderation body, seized only in the most problematic cases. How can this “supreme court” accept such a difference in treatment? Its members are perfectly aware of this paradox assumed by Facebook, which specified a few weeks ago that “the high-level user protection system only intervenes in a very small number of decisions”. And if on the scale of a network that has nearly 3 billion users, offering privileges to less than 6 million of them can indeed be seen as a drop of water, it is no less condemnable.
Does Facebook intend to remedy this? A priori, not really. “Documents that describe XCheck are part of a wide range of internal Facebook communications reviewed. […] They show that Facebook knows, down to the last detail, that its platforms are riddled with damage-causing flaws, often in ways only the company fully understands. […] In addition, the documents show that Facebook often does not have the will or the capacity to respond “, Write the Wall Street Journal with regard to the documents examined.
Avoiding fires with public relations
However, in recent years Facebook has been singled out many times and has had the opportunity to clean up its practices many times. This may still be the case on this specific subject in the months to come, the Wall Street Journal having forwarded evidence and documents to the US financial markets policeman, the SEC, as well as to Congress. “The documents include research reports, online discussions with employees and draft presentations to senior management, including to Mr. Zuckerberg. […] They offer perhaps the clearest picture to date of the extent of knowledge of Facebook’s issues within the company, right down to the CEO himself. “.
To come back to the difference in treatment between XCheck accounts and others, the economic daily speaks on the one hand of a crude, automated justice, without human examination or almost, plagued by a margin of error of the order of 10%, while on the other hand, moderation is more personalized, carried out with the desire not to “don’t start fires in public relations”. Where, for the average user, content is ruthlessly removed, it is left online until further reviews are conducted for VIPs.
Neymar Jr, Donald Trump, symptomatic cases
This explains, for example, why, when accused of rape, Neymar Jr published in 2019 on Facebook and Instagram the content of his WhatsApp correspondence with his accuser, including her name and a photo of her naked, this content was not automatically moderate. It goes without saying that Neymar Jr is one of the personalities protected by XCheck. A system that prevented Facebook moderators from acting on this content for more than a day.
Yet this publication was considered to be revenge porn by the moderation cell and Facebook tools, which did not prevent it from being seen by 56 million people before its withdrawal. A textbook case to illustrate what denounces the article of Wall Street Journal.
Mark Zuckerberg himself has already taken advantage of this exceptional policy on several occasions, and on numerous occasions Donald Trump’s protected publications have been the subject of heated debate internally. And in total, there are more than 16.4 billion “views” that would have accumulated last year of publications protected by XCheck, publications which would have been moderated if less prestigious users had been at the origin.
Documented risks, which are exploding today
Last year, before Congress, Mark Zuckerberg expressed his intention to “do not arbitrate the truth”. History shows us that the beautiful formulas are, as often, caught up with severe bias at Facebook. Thus, XCheck, this solution designed for “reduce false positives and human workload” is turning against the company that imagined it.
However, in 2019, the internal report mentioned above warned Facebook officials: “Whitelists pose many legal, compliance and legitimacy risks for the business and harm our community.”. From now on, Facebook will no longer be able to hide its face.
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