Attorney General Tong Seeks Answers on Facebook XCheck Protections for "Disinformation Dozen"
(Hartford, CT) – Attorney General William Tong today led a coalition of 14 attorneys general pushing Facebook to disclose whether members of the so-called “Disinformation Dozen” were granted “XCheck” protections to evade enforcement and spread COVID-19 falsehoods and anti-vaccine misinformation in violation of Facebook rules.
Internal Facebook documents shared by whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that Facebook maintains a “whitelist” of users under the project name “XCheck” that allows millions of celebrities, politicians, and journalists to share content in violation of Facebook rules. Documents showed those posts contained harassment, incitement of violence, and disinformation regarding vaccinations and COVID-19.
“Facebook broke its promise to rid its platform of dangerous anti-vaccination disinformation. We’ve learned now that Facebook has two sets of rules—one for the rich and powerful, and one for everyone else. Facebook needs to come clean about its XCheck program and disclose whether it has granted special whitelist protection to reckless influencers peddling COVID-19 lies,” said Attorney General Tong.
In their letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the attorneys general push Facebook to disclose whether any members of the “Disinformation Dozen” have received XCheck whitelist protection. The attorneys general also ask Facebook to disclose the extent to which whitelisted content has been deemed to be anti-vaccine, and how many user complaints regarding such anti-vaccine posts have resulted in removal of the content, among other questions.
Despite efforts Facebook has taken to address some elements of vaccine disinformation, evidence is clear that Facebook’s algorithm has promoted anti-vaccine content and that those who have chosen not to be vaccinated have been influenced by disinformation shared on Facebook. Unvaccinated individuals are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and available.
Attorney General Tong led eleven other attorneys general in March calling on both Facebook and Twitter to take stronger measures to stop the spread of anti-vaccine COVID-19 disinformation on their social media platforms. Digital media research groups have estimated that 12 anti-vaxxers’ personal accounts and their associated organizations, groups and websites are responsible for 65% of public anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The coalition’s latest letter notes that Facebook remains inconsistent in its actions with regard to these individuals. In the case of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., for example, his Instagram account was removed while his Facebook account remains active. Neither Facebook nor Instagram have restricted the accounts for noted anti-vaxxer Joseph Mercola.
Attorneys general from California, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia joined the coalition led by Attorney General Tong.
Click here to view the letter.