Facebook has a secret program in place that allows celebrities and powerful people to skirt the social network’s own rules, according to a bombshell report.
The Silicon Valley giant’s program, called ‘XCheck’ or ‘cross check,’ created a so-called ‘whitelist’ of celebrities who are immune from enforcement, according to The Wall Street Journal.
It was initially designed to protect the company from bad publicity in the event that it moderated content from some of the more high-profile users. Instead, critics say that it has shielded those same users from the rules that apply to the general public.
The list of protected celebrities and VIPs include Brazilian soccer star Neymar; former President Donald Trump; his son, Donald Trump Jr; Senator Elizabeth Warren; model Sunnaya Nash; and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself.
Movie stars, cable talk show hosts, academics, online personalities, and anyone who has a large following is protected by ‘XCheck’ on both Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram.
The program has been in place since at least 2019 – well before Trump was banned from the platform after he was accused of fomenting the January 6 riot at the US Capitol.
The Journal relied on internal documents provided to it by employees of the company who say that the program shields celebrities from enforcement actions that are meted out against the platform’s more than 3 billion other users.
If a VIP is believed to have violated the rules, their posts aren’t removed immediately but are instead sent to a separate system staffed by better-trained employees who then further review the content.
Facebook has a secret program in place that allows celebrities and powerful people to skirt the social network’s own rules, according to a bombshell report
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (left) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (right) are among the VIPs protected by the program, according to The Wall Street Journal
‘XCheck’ allowed international soccer star Neymar to post nude photos of a woman who had accused him of rape in 2019. The images were deleted by Facebook after a whole day, allowing them to be seen by Neymar’s tens of millions of his followers.
While Facebook’s standard procedure calls for deleting ‘nonconsensual intimate imagery’ as well as deleting the account.
But Neymar’s nude photos of the woman were allowed to remain for a full day and his account was not deactivated.
An internal review by Facebook described the content as ‘revenge porn’ by Neymar.
‘This included the video being reposted more than 6,000 times, bullying and harassment about her character,’ the review found.
Neymar has denied the rape allegation and accused the woman of attempting to extort him. No charges have been filed.
The woman who made the allegation was charged with slander, extortion, and fraud by Brazilian authorities. The first two charges were dropped, and she was acquitted of the third.
‘XCheck’ allowed international soccer star Neymar (seen above in Brazil on September 9) to post nude photos of a woman who had accused him of rape in 2019. The images were deleted by Facebook after a whole day, allowing them to be seen by Neymar’s tens of millions of his followers
Najila Trindade Mendes de Souza, accused Neymar of rape and sexual assault at a Paris hotel in 2019. Neymar, who was never charged, has denied the allegation
The Journal cites an internal review which acknowledges: ‘We are not actually doing what we say we do publicly.’
‘Unlike the rest of our community, these people can violate our standards without any consequences,’ according to the internal review cited by the Journal.
A spokesperson for Facebook told the Journal that the program ‘was designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding.’
An internal review found that even when Facebook does take action against protected accounts, it does so belatedly.
Last year, ‘XCheck’ allowed posts that violated Facebook guidelines to be viewed at least 16.4 billion times before they were finally removed, according to a document obtained by the Journal.
The spokesperson, Andy Stone, said the company is in the process of phasing out its’ whitelisting’ policies as it relates to ‘XCheck.’
‘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,’ he said.
The Journal interviewed dozens of current and former Facebook employees who say the company is aware of the flaws on its platform and the harm they cause but is either unwilling or unable to address them.
One person who is seeking federal whistleblower protection has turned over the documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as to Congress.
Facebook’s own internal reviewers know that the platform has been used for illicit activity between Mexican drug cartels as well as for human trafficking.
The company is also aware of the effect that the social network has on teens’ mental health, according to the Journal.
But Facebook did not move to address those issues for fear that it would hurt its bottom line, according to the Journal.
Trump is currently banned from Facebook for two years, but company officials recommended taking disciplinary action against him as early as June of last year because of his post about the riots that broke out after the death of George Floyd.
Trump initially shared the post to both Twitter and Facebook shortly before 1am on the night of May 29, 2020 – following a third night of violent protests in Minnesota over the death of Floyd.
The post read in full: ‘I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right.
Former President Donald Trump (right) and his son, Donald Trump Jr (left), are among the VIPs who were protected by Facebook’s ‘XCheck’ program, according to The Wall Street Journal. Trump was ‘whitelisted’ by Facebook before he was banned from the platform for two years earlier this year
Company officials recommended taking disciplinary action against him as early as June of last year because of his ‘looting’ post about the riots that broke out after the death of George Floy
Within hours, Twitter had hidden the post behind a warning which accused the tweet of ‘violating rules about glorifying violence’. Facebook, meanwhile, left the post up without any disclaimers
‘These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!’
Within hours Twitter had hidden the post behind a warning to users, which stated: ‘This Tweet violated Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to be accessible’.
However, Facebook left Trump’s post up without any disclaimers, generating controversy.
Zuckerberg defended the company’s decision to leave the post up, saying that it included a reference to the National Guard and Facebook users therefore had a right to know ‘if the government was planning to deploy force’.
According to the Journal, Trump’s tweet violated the company rules and should have been deleted.
‘Making a manual decision like this seems less defensible than algorithmic scoring and actioning,’ one company manager wrote.
Despite the flaws in the program, Facebook continued to expand ‘XCheck’ – adding tens of thousands of names ever year.
This was done despite the fact that Facebook employees knew the company did not invest enough funds in moderation content.
Since the company didn’t place a high enough priority on moderating content, it decided to ‘whitelist’ – or decline to enforce its rules and guidelines – for a select set of users.
‘This problem is pervasive, touching almost every area of the company,’ according to a 2019 internal review.
The review noted that whitelists ‘pose numerous legal, compliance, and legitimacy risks for the company and harm to our community.’
Facebook employees complained that the practice of whitelisting left users exposed to misinformation.
‘We are knowingly exposing users to misinformation that we have the processes and resources to mitigate,’ read a 2019 memo by Facebook researchers.
At one point, content moderators were reviewing less than 10 percent of problematic posts by users shielded by ‘XCheck.’
One Facebook user who was on the whitelist was allowed to share an article by a doctor who died more than 40 years ago claiming that chemotherapy was ineffective in treating cancer.
‘One of the fundamental reasons I joined FB Is that I believe in its potential to be a profoundly democratizing force that enables everyone to have an equal civic voice,’ Samidh Chakrabarti, an executive who headed Facebook’s Civic Team, wrote in a document.
‘So having different rules on speech for different people is very troubling to me.’
Other employees expressed their displeasure with the program.
‘FB’s decision-making on content policy is influenced by political considerations,’ wrote a company economist in the data-science division.
Kaushik Iyer, an engineer for Facebook’s civic integrity team, wrote in June 2020: ‘Separate content policy from public policy.’