Facebook’s oversight board condemns the company for withholding information in connection to Trump suspension


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Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before the House Financial Services Committee on “An Examination of Facebook and Its Impact on the Financial Services and Housing Sectors” in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC on October 23, 2019.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Facebook’s oversight board condemned the platform on Thursday for withholding relevant information about its content moderation system that was revealed by The Wall Street Journal through leaked documents.

The board called Facebook’s failure to include details of its so-called cross-check program in the case of former President Donald Trump’s suspension from the platform unacceptable. According to the Journal, the content moderation system shielded millions of high-profile users from standard procedures the company employs to remove or reduce the reach of posts violating its policies.

“Given that the referral included a specific policy question about account-level enforcement for political leaders, many of whom the Board believes were covered by cross-check, this omission is not acceptable,” the board wrote in its transparency report with regards to the Trump case. “Facebook only mentioned cross-check to the Board when we asked whether Mr. Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.”

The board said Facebook admitted it should not have downplayed the number of decisions in which cross-check plays a role. While the number of decisions is relatively small in the grand scheme of content moderation, Facebook said, according to the board, the company realized “its phrasing could come across as misleading.”

“We thank the board for their ongoing work and for issuing their transparency report,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We believe the board’s work has been impactful, which is why we asked the board for input into our cross-check system, and we will strive to be clearer in our explanations to them going forward.”

The Oversight Board also announced it will review the cross-check program at Facebook’s request. The board will issue a policy advisory opinion on how to change the program to make it more fair and objective, how to ensure equitable inclusion in the program and how to be transparent about it.

The board said its review would include seeking public comment and engaging with relevant voices including “former Facebook employees who have come forward in recent months.” Though it did not include any names, that suggests the board will consult with Frances Haugen, the former employee who brought the leaked documents about cross-check to the Journal, and perhaps even Sophie Zhang, who left the company prior to Haugen and sent a widely circulated memo condemning Facebook’s actions.

Facebook will now share the documents about cross-check with the board. It also committed to providing more contextual information to aid the board’s decisions moving forward.

The Oversight Board operates independently from Facebook but with a charter and funds provided by the company for a set period of time. The board’s role is mainly to make recommendations and advise the company on user complaints involving its policies, though Facebook generally retains final say on whether to take the board’s advice.

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