Facebook’s content moderation policy has been under scrutiny lately, thanks to the fair little bit of evidence that shows its role in inciting multiple cases of violence across the world. In response to a wide range of allegations, the business is striving to demonstrate its willingness to alter its content policies. Facebook’s Global Head of Safety, Antigone Davis, recently announced that it won’t allow public figures to be harassed on the platform, and has categorised journalists and human rights activists as involuntary public figures to protect them.
But, what inspired Facebook to start out thinking about public figures to start with? The answer is its own complicated policies that allow public figures to post unmoderated content.
Facebook’s XCheck Feature lets celebrities off the hook
Facebook’s content moderation policies have always been a bit dodgy, at best. However , the total extent to which the platform allows its own biases to affect its judgement arrived to light when The Wall Street Journal exposed the XCheck or Cross Check feature. This feature white-lists certain accounts and protects them from Facebook’s own rules. In other words, if someone with a white-listed account shares derogatory content on their profile, the same is not likely to be removed.
“White-listed” accounts have shared claims that Hillary Clinton had covered up “pedophile rings, ” and that then-President Donald Trump had called all refugees seeking asylum “animals, ” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Facebook’s internal study titled ‘Effects of Politician Shared Misinformation’ demonstrates how out-of-context videos shared in India caused widespread political polarisation. This means that while the platform is fully aware of the fact content shared by public figures is often believed at face-value, it still implemented an XCheck feature allowing public figures to share such a thing they want, without moderation. Not merely does this contribute to the spread of fake news (both intentional and unintentional), but also has a direct affect the lives and safety of people across the world.
Now, Facebook Wants to Protect Public Figures from Harassment
While one cannot argue contrary to the need to protect involuntary public figures from online harassment, it is important to raise questions regarding what Facebook plans to complete to protect us lowly commoners from similar harassment. As discussed in a previous article, Facebook has allowed political pages that share dehumanising content about specific communities to thrive, although these pages may not target celebrities, they do target regular people and result in real-world consequences like ethnic cleansing and riots.
This new step to protect public figures online feels like an effective way to curb backlash against content that might be shared via white-listed profiles. With users permitted to post comments calling for the death of certain people (as long because they don’t tag them), there’s hardly any protection afforded to non-public figures who could be at the receiving end of bullying simply for owned by certain communities, or sharing news pieces to their feed.
Like Instagram’s Nudge feature, this too feels as though the bare-minimum step being undertaken by a trillion dollar company with massive resources to save face in public. Facebook needs to take stronger steps to eradicate harmful content from its platform, rather than only focusing on measures that impact public appearance.
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