Facebook’s Oversight Board — which earlier this year upheld the company’s suspension of former President Donald Trump — slammed the social media behemoth on Thursday, saying it withheld information during the case about the uneven enforcement of the company’s content moderation system.
The board said Facebook withheld or provided incomplete information about its so-called cross-check program, which shields millions of high-profile and VIP users from the company’s standard content moderation rules.
The program was first exposed by the Wall Street Journal, which cited internal company documents.
Facebook did not inform the Oversight Board about the program, as it should have, when it referred the case of Trump’s suspension from the platform to the board.
In a statement, the board called that omission “not acceptable.”
“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,” it wrote in its transparency report with regards to the Trump case.
“Facebook only mentioned cross-checking to the Board when we asked whether Mr. Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.”
Facebook later sought to downplay the program to the board, saying that it “only applied to a ‘small number of decisions,’” the board said.
In a subsequent briefing, the company acknowledged it should not have said that, according to the board.
“Facebook noted that for teams operating at the scale of millions of content decisions a day, the numbers involved with cross-check seem relatively small, but recognized its phrasing could come across as misleading,” the board said.
The board did not say whether the revelation of the cross-check program would have impacted its decision with regards to Trump’s suspension from the platform.
In May, the board upheld the company’s initial decision to block Trump from its platforms, but said an indefinite suspension of his account was inappropriate, and gave the company six months to lay out new penalties.
On Thursday, the Oversight Board also said it will, at Facebook’s request, review the cross-check program.
“Specifically, Facebook requested guidance on, among other things: how to ensure fairness and objectivity in cross-check reviews, taking into account context; how to govern cross-check and promote transparency; and the criteria it uses to determine who is included in cross-check and how to ensure this is equitable,” the board said.
In a statement, Facebook thanked “the board for their ongoing work and for issuing their transparency report.”
“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,” a spokesman said.
The 20-member Facebook Oversight Board was set up last year in a purported effort to create more accountability for decisions at the company, though critics argue that it was a move to allow corporate executives to claim distance from politically sensitive decisions.
Also on Thursday, the board acknowledged how much of its power comes only from Facebook, saying that the “credibility of the Oversight Board, our working relationship with Facebook, and our ability to render sound judgments on cases all depend on being able to trust that information provided to us by Facebook is accurate, comprehensive, and paints a full picture of the topic at hand.”