Meta to review program to protect accounts of politicians and celebrities

8 minutes
Meta to review program to protect accounts of politicians and celebrities

To defend himself against accusations of sexual violence, in 2019 soccer player Neymar Jr. published on Facebook and Instagram a video that included conversations with the woman who had denounced him and photos in which she appeared naked. The publication, which breached the community standards of both platforms for disclosing non-consensual intimate content, reached more than 56 million reproductions before it was removed.

Behind the delay was Facebook's cross-check program -today Meta-, also known as "cross-check" or "X-Check", a system that allows high profiles, such as politicians, celebrities or large companies, to enjoy a more permissive evaluation in the face of possible faults on Meta's platforms. According to the company, this program makes it possible to identify content that is at greater risk of being eliminated by mistake, escalating it to higher levels within the moderation teams, so as to mitigate the risk of false positives and guarantee the freedom of expression of the beneficiary profiles.

The program came to light in 2021, following a series of Wall Street Journal reports known as the Facebook Files, which revealed this and other questionable practices within the company. Around that time, Meta sought an opinion from its Oversight Board, an independent body that acts as both a court of closure for moderation cases and a consultative body for such matters.

In its investigation, the Council drew attention to the unequal treatment of users of Meta's platforms, the lack of transparency regarding the operation of the program and the damage that could be caused by content that violates the platform's rules remaining online. The agency criticized the program and suggested that it was designed to ensure the viability of the business, as in effect a sanction on a head of state or a highly visible brand could jeopardize Meta's operation or revenues. Last December, the Council made 32 recommendations to the company to improve different aspects of the system and harmonize it with the human rights of users.

Recently, Meta announced that it would fully embrace 11 of these recommendations, while partially implementing 15 others. According to the company, in cases where possible, it will separate the teams in charge of the program into two branches, depending on whether the protection of accounts is given for reasons of freedom of expression or for the company's business priorities. In addition, Meta agreed to act immediately in cases of content identified as seriously infringing.

Although the Council called for the public flagging of pages and accounts of state actors, candidates, allies, media and journalists who are protected for commercial reasons, Meta argued that such a measure could expose them to attacks.

The company also reserved its position on the participation of civil society in the nomination of users who may be eligible for this benefit. The Council had asked it to work hand in hand with organizations to identify candidates for the program, an issue especially relevant in places where Meta does not have sufficient presence to understand who needs greater protection of their freedom of expression. However, the company did not commit to doing much more than it already does: maintaining relationships with civil society and listening to their opinions in order to design more equitable criteria. According to Facebook and Instagram's parent company, the possibility of civil society participation in a formal nomination process will be "explored."

While the Council welcomed several of Meta's commitments, it also expressed dissatisfaction with some of the responses. While several of its recommendations called for the program to have clear criteria, so that those who met them could apply to be beneficiaries, the decision to give this preferential treatment remains at Meta's sole discretion.

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