Facebook has not only not been "fully" transparent with users, but has also withheld information from its own oversight board, particularly in relation to the case of the "indefinite" ban of former President Donald Trump — a move the oversight board ruled was "not appropriate,"according to the oversight board's first quarterly report.
"Today's reports conclude that Facebook has not been fully forthcoming with the Board on its 'cross-check' system, which the company uses to review content decisions relating to high-profile users," the report said.
"The Board has also announced that it has accepted a request from Facebook, in the form of a policy advisory opinion, to review its cross-check system and make recommendations on how it can be changed. As part of this review, Facebook has agreed to share with the Board documents concerning the cross-check system as reported in The Wall Street Journal."
Most notably, the cross-check system was used to target the highest-profile user: Trump.
"When Facebook referred the case related to former U.S. President Trump to the Board, it did not mention the cross-check system," the board wrote. "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.
"Facebook only mentioned cross-check to the Board when we asked whether Mr. Trump's page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.
"In its subsequent briefing to the Board, Facebook admitted it should not have said that cross-check only applied to a 'small number of decisions.' 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.
"We also noted that Facebook's response to our recommendation to 'clearly explain the rationale, standards and processes of [cross-check] review, including the criteria to determine which pages and accounts are selected for inclusion' provided no meaningful transparency on the criteria for accounts or pages being selected for inclusion in cross-check."
In addition to that one, among the other damning findings, considering this is supposed to be oversight, Facebook is not answering all of the board's questions.
"To assist with making our decisions and to push Facebook to be as transparent as possible, we send questions to Facebook about specific cases," the report says. "Of the 156 questions sent to Facebook about decisions we published through the end of June, Facebook answered 130, partially answered 12, and declined to answer 14.
"By asking specific questions and including the details in our final decision, we hope to provide users and researchers with as much information as possible about how the company works.
"In our reports, we give examples of the types of questions which Facebook declined to answer, and the company's reasons for doing so. For example, in several instances, Facebook declined to answer questions about the user's previous behavior on Facebook, which the company claimed was irrelevant to the Board's determination about the case in hand."
Among the other highlights of this first quarterly report:
- The board has received around 524,000 appeals.
- Roughly two-thirds of those are related to bans on content.
- Nearly half of the user appeals came from the U.S. or Canada.
- There were 38 cases where the board recommended releasing a ban, three of which had been deleted by the user by the time the appeal was processed.
The oversight board also announced it will begin issuing quarterly reports in addition to an annual report.
"Pushing Facebook to be more transparent, to treat users fairly, and to honor its human rights commitments is a long-term effort that requires engagement by policymakers and regulators, civil society, researchers, and the media," the review concluded. "The Oversight Board is part of this effort.
"In areas where we feel that Facebook is falling short, such as transparency, we will keep challenging the company to do better. We will do this through our decisions, recommendations, and regular transparency reporting, including our annual report which we will publish next year."
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