Oversight Board Slams Meta's Unequal Treatment of VIPs

'Cross-check grants certain users greater protection than others'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2022 10:20 AM CST
Oversight Board Slams Meta's Unequal Treatment of VIPs
Facebook's Meta logo sign is seen at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on, Oct. 28, 2021.   (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

An oversight board has found that Facebook and Instagram's VIP program creates an unequal environment where celebrities, politicians, and business partners receive preferential treatment. As NPR reports, "in some cases, their posts are exempted from Meta's rules entirely." Meta ordered a review of its "cross-check" program—which involves a secret list of more than 5 million VIP accounts, whose posts undergo human review if flagged for rule violations—after it was highlighted last year by the Wall Street Journal. Meta says the program is meant to prevent posts being wrongly flagged as improper, particularly those likely to be seen by many people. But the board found Meta to be more concerned with avoiding the "perception of censorship" than protecting free speech.

"Meta has repeatedly told the board and the public that the same set of policies apply to all users. Such statements and the public-facing content policies are misleading," reads the report released Tuesday, per the Journal, noting the program is built "to satisfy business concerns." The oversight board made up of experts in law, human rights, and journalism—which the Verge describes as "semi-independent"—found a major reason for reviewing VIP posts was "to avoid provoking people" who might "create public controversy" for Meta, per NPR. "Users in lucrative markets with heightened risk of public relations implications for Meta enjoy greater entitlement to protection for their content and expression than those elsewhere," the board added. In short, "cross-check grants certain users greater protection than others."

As cross-check reviews take more than five days on average (some take weeks or months), rule-breaking content "is left up on Facebook and Instagram when it is most viral and could cause harm," the report reads. It notes a video posted by soccer star Neymar in 2019, including "non-consensual intimate imagery" of a woman who accused him of rape, was viewed 56 million times before it was removed. The report notes "the normal penalty would have been account disabling," but Neymar was a business partner. Meta later announced an exclusive streaming deal with the athlete. The report includes more than 30 recommendations on how to overhaul the program, including removal of accounts that repeatedly violate the rules and making the list of VIPs public. Meta says it will respond within 90 days. (More Meta stories.)

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