The New York Times Is Wrong About the ‘Myth of Big Tech Competence’
Facebook has long claimed its standards of conduct apply equally to all users. Documents that surfaced earlier this week, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, indicate otherwise. They show that the social media company has long maintained an “XCheck” (“cross-check”) program in which high-profile accounts representing celebrities, journalists, and politicians are exempt from normal enforcement measures, with different rules applying to them than to everyday users.
About 5.8 million out of 2.9 billion monthly active Facebook users have this status, which allows them to sometimes post violating content without receiving sanctions. The types of things that normally get flagged when other users post them—bullying and harassment, revenge porn, so-called hate speech—get more lenient treatment by moderators. Worried about P.R. backlash, Facebook is more choosy with which policies to enforce for VIPs, allowing them to get away with much more, and for much longer, than typical users.
Internal documents showed that many violations by VIP accounts never received review at all, an issue that was noted to the company’s Oversight Board, formed to serve as a 20-person accountability body to oversee content moderation decisions and appeals processes. Earlier this year, the Oversight Board made recommendations to the company that it disclose “relative error rates” and “thematic consistency of determinations” between XCheck accounts and typical user accounts. Facebook rejected this suggestion.
“[The documents] show that Facebook knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands,” but the company “often lacks the will or the ability to address them,” notes the Journal. “Facebook appeared more concerned with avoiding gaffes than mitigating high-profile abuse.”
The New York Times‘ Shira Ovide seized on this in a piece entitled “The Myth of Big Tech Competence.” In it, she writes that “V.I.P.s were exempt from the company’s rules less out of malicious intent than neglect,” and that The Wall Street Journal‘s “reporting ultimately points to a more fundamental error: A large organization displayed stunning mismanagement, and could not or would not fully fix its problems.” She concludes:
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