Facebook XCheck: Donald Trump, Candace Owens can post BANNNED content under new program
Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, Neymar and the CEO himself are all allowed to post banned content on the platform
Facebook does not treat all its users equally, a stunning new report by the Wall Street Journal says. The publication reported that the social media giant runs a secret program called XCheck, that allows celebrities, politicians, and other VIPs to post content that is otherwise banned for regular users. Through XCheck, names like Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, Neymar, and Candace Owens all get special treatment and are able to avoid the company's otherwise sketchy moderation.
The social media giant, along with Twitter and YouTube has increasingly come under attack for selectively restricting conservative voices, with its strict content policies. In January 2021, it banned PatrioticMe, a retailer, from advertising on its platform. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has often been at the forefront of this battle, having to defend his company's decisions as he did in a leaked February video. The GOP meanwhile, has hit back with a series of laws banning censorship in deep-red states like North Dakota and Texas.
It now turns out that not all conservative voices are moderated. The WSJ's article notes that Trump and Trump Jr. are among the thousands of VIPs given the freedom to skirt the platform's rules under XCheck. It should come as little surprise to many, given the company's long history of poor moderation, unclear policies, and questionable terms of service. But the expanse of XCheck is still shocking.
What is XCheck?
Also called "Cross Check", the program is reportedly designed to put out PR fires or bad press the company receives by pulling down content uploaded by high-profile users. Instead, though, it appears to give these users leeway to share content that would have gotten others in trouble. Reportedly, posts from these high-profile users or VIPs are supposed to be sent to a team of better-trained moderators, but given that there are around 5.8 million people under XCheck, only around 10% of posts are actually reviewed, the WSJ reported.
As a result, XCheck has allowed high-profile users to put up very questionable content, without facing bans or takedowns like most users. In 2019, Brazilian soccer star Neymar uploaded nude photos of a woman who accused him of rape. The images were up for a whole day before public outcry led Facebook to take them down. WSJ obtained a document that noted XCheck allowed posts that violated Facebook guidelines to be viewed at least 16.4 billion times before they were finally removed in 2020.
XCheck has been around for years, and Facebook even acknowledged its existence in a 2018 blog post. "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," the company said. However, as the WSJ report notes, it is far from perfect and Facebook is simply unwilling to accept that. Dozens of current and former employees have confirmed the program's existence and its flaws. In fact, one whistleblower has also turned over the documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress.
Facebook aware, slams 'outdated information'
The bombshell report has not gone unnoticed and Facebook has hit back. Andy Stone, a spokesperson said, "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." But that doesn't seem to be the case. An internal review document notes that "We are not actually doing what we say we do publicly." It adds, "Unlike the rest of our community, these people can violate our standards without any consequences."
A good example of the platform's double standards is former president Trump. Reportedly, company officials wanted to reprimand Trump as early as June 2020, after protests erupted in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd. " 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," Trump posted at the time, which led to a warning on Twitter, but no action on Facebook. At the time, Zuckerberg defended the decision saying users had a right to know if the government was deploying force. It was only in January 2021 Trump was booted, following the insurrection at Capitol Hill.
Given that the company does not have enough moderators to review all its content, it decided simply to whitelist some users, effectively letting them escape the review process altogether. Those are the names in the XCheck program, like Trump, Warren, and Zuckerberg himself. It's unclear who else is on the list, but given that there are around 5.8 million names, you can be sure more influential people are allowed to escape Facebook's moderation. "We’ve made investments, built a dedicated team, and have been redesigning cross check to improve how the system operates," Stone claimed, but did not offer more details on what those improvements were.