Facebook oversight board tells Meta to change rules for publishing private addresses

An illustration of doxxing
Even addresses which are publicly available should not be posted, the board said. Photo credit: Getty Images

Facebook's oversight board has published its first policy advisory opinion, recommending the social media platform changes its rules over 'doxxing'.

The opinion, first requested by the social media giant last year, says the sharing of private residential addresses shouldn't be allowed, even when that information is already available online.

According to the board, Facebook's parent company Meta considered the issues of sharing private addresses and images "difficult" because access to the information could be relevant to "journalism and civic activism".

However, "exposing this information without consent can create a risk to residents' safety and infringe on an individual's privacy," Meta said, requesting guidance on how that information should be shared.

"Harms resulting from doxxing disproportionately affect groups such as women, children and LGBTQIA+ people," the board said. That can include "emotional distress, loss of employment and even physical harm or death".

In the newly released opinion, Meta should better protect people's addresses and remove the exception that allows the sharing of the address or images that could identify it, even when it's considered "publicly available".

There remains exemptions to the rule, particularly around publicly owned official residences.

The platform should allow publication of addresses and images of the addresses of residences of high-ranking government officials, including heads of state and local governments as well as ambassadors.

"High-ranking government officials are generally expected to tolerate lower levels of privacy, especially at their place of work, and to receive heightened protection by security personnel," the board, which includes lawyers and academics, wrote.

"This recommendation proposes allowing the organisation of protests at publicly owned official residences, not the private residences of government officials."

Private addresses can also be published if the user has allowed the sharing or given consent to its publication. "By default, users should be considered not to have given such consent," the opinion states.

Violations of the policy related to malicious action that creates risk of violence or harassment should be counted as "severe", with a temporary account suspension resulting.

The board gave no guidance on how long that suspension should last for.

Other recommendations include the setting up of a communications channel for victims of doxxing, available to both those who use the company's platforms and those who don't.

"This should be easily accessed, allow the victim to explain in detail their situation and risks the content creates for them, and prompt swift action from the company. Meta should prioritise action when the impacted person says they belong to a group facing heightened risk to their safety in the region where the private residence is located."

Users who report doxxing should also be able to provide additional context about their claim, the board wrote.

The company has 60 days to publicly respond to the recommendations.

Since being established, the oversight board has overturned Meta's content decisions in 17 of 22 cases according to Reuters.