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Facebook's Oversight Board says it's reviewing company's special treatment of high-profile users

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Facebook's Oversight Board said Tuesday it is reviewing the social media company's treatment of high-profile users, including how it enforces the platform's rules for some politicians, celebrities and journalists.

The board's move follows a Wall Street Journal report earlier this month that Facebook's "cross-check" program effectively shields millions high-profile accounts from the enforcement actions that regular Facebook users are subject to. The program has allowed "whitelisted" accounts to post false claims, such as that COVID-19 vaccines are deadly, as well as posts that include harassment, among other issues, the Journal reported.

By 2020, there were almost 6 million accounts in the cross-check system, with Facebook employees giving those accounts special treatment, the report found. For most of Facebook's 2.8 billion monthly users, content that violates the company's guidelines against issues like bullying or hate speech is handled by automated systems, the publication added. On Tuesday, the Oversight Board said Facebook must be more transparent in how applies the rules.

"In light of recent developments, we are looking into the degree to which Facebook has been fully forthcoming in its responses in relation to cross-check, including the practice of whitelisting," the Oversight Board said in a statement. "The Board has reached out to Facebook to request they provide further clarity about the information previously shared with us."

The group said it expects to be briefed by Facebook within the next few days, and will publish its findings in October as part of its first quarterly transparency report. The Oversight Board said it has been examining the cross-check system "for some time," and had warned that a lack of transparency "could contribute to perceptions that Facebook is unduly influenced by political and commercial considerations."

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The Oversight Board added that it has received more than 500,000 requests from Facebook users to examine its content moderation decisions. It has issued 15 decisions in what it calls "important cases," with 11 of those decisions overturning Facebook, it added. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg created the Oversight Board in 2019. The 20-member body, which includes lawyers, professors, journalists and human rights activists worldwide, is sometimes called "Facebook's Supreme Court" because it can overturn decisions made by company executives and its decisions are final. Even so, some critics say the board is too close to the company it is supposed to oversee.

In May, the Oversight Board upheld the initial suspension of former President Donald Trump's account, following Facebook's suspension of Mr. Trump following the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

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