Facebook oversight board to meet with whistleblower Frances Haugen
Facebook’s oversight board will meet with whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former data scientist with the company, in the coming weeks following her damning testimony last week before Congress that the social media giant’s platforms harm children.
The board said it has extended an invitation to speak with Haugen, which she accepted.
"Board members appreciate the chance to discuss Ms. Haugen’s experiences and gather information that can help push for greater transparency and accountability from Facebook through our case decisions and recommendations," the board wrote.
In her testimony, Haugen accused the social media platform of failing to make changes to Instagram after internal research showed apparent harm to some teens and suggested dishonesty in its public fight against hate and misinformation. Her accusations were supported by tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit.
After Haugen came forward with her discoveries, Facebook called the reports a mischaracterization of its practices.
"I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted," CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote to employees.
Other Facebook officials begun using harsh language to describe Haugen's actions.
In an Associated Press interview Thursday, Facebook executive Monika Bickert repeatedly referred to the documents Haugen copied as "stolen," a word she has also used in other media interviews. David Colapinto, a lawyer for Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto who specializes in whistleblower cases, said that language was threatening.
In the same interview, asked if Facebook would sue or retaliate against the whistleblower, Bickert said only, "I can’t answer that."
A week earlier, Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of global safety, testified in the Senate that Facebook "would never retaliate against someone for speaking to Congress," which left open the possibility that the company might go after her for giving documents to the Journal.
"The choices made by companies like Facebook have real-world consequences for the freedom of expression and human rights of billions of people across the world. In this context, transparency around rules is essential," the oversight board said Monday. "As the Board shared in September, we are currently looking into whether Facebook has been fully forthcoming in its responses on its ‘cross-check’ system and will share our analysis in our first release of quarterly transparency reports later this month."
RELATED: Facebook rolls out new controls for teens, parents
Facebook created the quasi-independent oversight panel to rule on thorny content issues following widespread criticism of its problems responding swiftly and effectively to misinformation, hate speech and nefarious influence campaigns.
In a statement published by Facebook’s oversight board last month, the board said it is "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 Board has reached out to Facebook to request they provide further clarity about the information previously shared with us. We expect to receive a briefing from Facebook in the coming days and will be reporting what we hear from this as part of our first release of quarterly transparency reports which we will publish in October. On top of providing new information on the types of appeals the Board is receiving, these reports will provide an analysis of the Board’s decisions related to cross-check and Facebook’s responses on this topic," the statement read.
The program, known as "cross check" or "XCheck," was initially intended as a quality-control measure for actions taken against high-profile accounts, including celebrities, politicians and journalists. Today, it shields millions of VIP users from the company’s normal enforcement process, the documents Haugen leaked show. Some users are "whitelisted"—rendered immune from enforcement actions—while others are allowed to post rule-violating material pending Facebook employee reviews that often never come.
At times, the documents show, XCheck has protected public figures whose posts contain harassment or incitement to violence, violations that would typically lead to sanctions for regular users. In 2019, it allowed international soccer star Neymar to show nude photos of a woman who had accused him of rape to tens of millions of his fans before the content was removed by Facebook. Whitelisted accounts shared inflammatory claims that Facebook’s fact checkers deemed false, including that vaccines are deadly, that Hillary Clinton had covered up "pedophile rings," and that then-President Donald Trump had called all refugees seeking asylum "animals," according to the documents.
In the statement, the company addressed its cross check system and specifically a decision made in June to suspend former President Donald Trump from its site for two years following his praise for the rioters who committed violence during the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.
"We are today announcing new enforcement protocols to be applied in exceptional cases such as this, and we are confirming the time-bound penalty consistent with those protocols which we are applying to Mr. Trump’s accounts," Facebook wrote earlier this year.
Addressing the decision last month, Facebook’s oversight board said they warned "that a lack of clear public information on cross-check and Facebook’s ‘newsworthiness exception’ could contribute to perceptions that Facebook is unduly influenced by political and commercial considerations."
"To address this, we asked Facebook to explain how its cross-check system works and urged the company to share the criteria for adding pages and accounts to cross-check as well as to report on relative error rates of determinations made through cross-check, compared with its ordinary enforcement procedures. In its response, Facebook provided an explanation of cross-check but did not elaborate criteria for adding pages and accounts to the system, and declined to provide reporting on error rates," the statement read.
This is a developing story. The Associated Press and FOX Business contributed.