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Facebook reportedly exempted high-profile users from its rules

The social network has publicly said that its rules apply to everyone.

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Facebook has been under scrutiny for how it moderates content on its platform.

Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

Facebook reportedly exempted millions of high-profile users, including celebrities and politicians, from some or all of its community standards, apparently contradicting the social network's public statements that its rules apply to everyone. 

The Wall Street Journal, citing internal documents, reported Monday that the world's largest social network created a program known as Cross Check, or XCheck, that shielded public figures from the company's rules against harassment and incitement to violence. The documents, for example, revealed that Facebook allowed Brazilian soccer player Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. to post nude photos of a woman who accused him of rape before it pulled down the content, according to the report. Some high-profile users who were exempted from content moderation enforcement shared false claims, including about vaccines.

An internal review of Facebook's practices from 2019 stated the company "was not actually doing what we say we do publicly." The XCheck program also included most government officials but not all candidates running for office, according to the report. In 2020, at least 5.8 million users were reportedly part of XCheck.

Facebook has faced criticism from both Democrats and Republicans about what content it leaves up or pulls down. The documents will likely raise concerns again about whether the social network is fairly enforcing its rules. The company formed a content oversight board to review some of its toughest decisions. 

Citing a post from 2018, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a tweet on Monday that the program was meant to give certain Facebook pages and profiles a "second layer of review to make sure we've applied our policies correctly." 

"There aren't two systems of justice; it's an attempted safeguard against mistakes," he said in the tweet.

Facebook's oversight board said in a tweet it recommended that the company "be far more transparent in general, including about its management of high-profile accounts, while ensuring that its policies treat all users fairly."

Advocacy groups and some of Facebook's most vocal critics called for more oversight over the social network.

"Urgent government regulation is needed to ensure the online world is one in which human rights are effectively protected. These disclosures underscore the fact that we simply cannot rely on companies to self-regulate," said Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, in a statement.