Facebook protects celebrities, allows high-profile users to break its rules - report

"These people can violate our standards without any consequences."
"These people can violate our standards without any consequences." Photo credit: Getty Images

Facebook's 'cross check' program, designed to ensure actions taken against high-profile users are fair, has instead ended up shielding millions of high-profile users from enforcement policies, says The Wall Street Journal.

The programme, also known as XCheck, included at least 5.8 million users up to 2020, with an unknown number of users "whitelisted".

This rendered them "immune from enforcement actions" while others "are allowed to post rule-violating material pending Facebook employee reviews that often never come", the Journal reported.

Back when XCheck first became public in 2018, Facebook stated there were no special protections for any group and it removed content from Facebook when it violates standards.

"To be clear, Cross Checking something on Facebook does not protect the profile, page or content from being removed. It is simply done to make sure our decision is correct," Monika Bickert, Facebook's vice president of global policy management, wrote at the time.

However a 2019 internal review said favouritism existed and the company wasn't doing what it said it was doing.

"Unlike the rest of our community, these people can violate our standards without any consequences," it stated.

Even when action is taken, the delays introduced by quality checking mean the damage may already have been done.

A summary of the programme from last December indicated XCheck allowed posts that violated standards had been viewed 16.4 billion times.

That included posts from Brazilian football superstar Neymar, who was accused of rape in 2019.

The Paris Saint-Germain star posted videos on Facebook and Instagram defending himself while showing WhatsApp messages with his accuser.

Those messages included her name and nude photographs, for which the standard response is to delete the offending post.

Instead, moderators were prevented from removing the video for more than a day, with an internal review finding 56 million users had seen what the social media giant called in a separate document "revenge porn".

"This included the video being reposted more than 6000 times, bullying and harassment about her character," the review said.

"After escalating the case to leadership we decided to leave Neymar's accounts active, a departure from our usual 'one strike' profile disable policy."

In a written statement to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said criticism of XCheck was fair but "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".