Meta will close a loophole in its doxxing policy in response to the Oversight Board

Facebook is also experimenting with a new way to report privacy violations.

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Karissa Bell
April 8, 2022 11:59 PM
A woman holds a smartphone with Meta logo on it in front of a displayed Facebook logo in this illustration taken, October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
Dado Ruvic / reuters

Meta has agreed to change some of its rules around doxxing in response to recommendations from the Oversight Board. The company had first asked the Oversight Board to help shape its rules last June, saying the policy was “significant and difficult.” The board followed up with 17 recommendations for the company in February, which Meta has now weighed in on.

Unlike decisions around whether specific posts should be taken down or left up, Meta is free to completely disregard policy proposals from the Oversight Board, but it is required to respond to each recommendation individually.

One of the most notable changes is that Meta agreed to end an exception to its existing rules that allowed users to post private residential information if it was “publicly available” elsewhere. The Oversight Board had pointed out that there was a significant difference between obtaining data from a public records request and a viral social media post.

In its response Friday, Meta agreed to remove the exception from its policy. “As the board notes in this recommendation, removing the exception for ‘publicly available’ private residential information may limit the availability of this information on Facebook and Instagram when it is still publicly available elsewhere,” the company wrote. “However, we recognize that implementing this recommendation can strengthen privacy protections on our platforms.” Meta added that the policy change would be implemented “by the end of the year.”

While the company ended one exception, it agreed to relax its policy on another issue. Meta said users would be able to share photos of the exterior of private homes “when the property depicted is the focus of the news story, except when shared in the context of organizing protests against the resident.” Likewise, the company also agreed that it would allow users to share addresses of “high ranking” government officials if the property is a publicly-owned official residence, like those used by heads of state and ambassadors.

The policy changes could have a significant impact for people facing harassment, while also allowing some information to be shared in the context of news stories or protests against elected officials.

The board had also recommended Meta revamp the way that privacy violations are reported by users and how reports are handled internally. On the reporting front, Meta said it has already started experimenting with a simpler method for reporting privacy intrusions. Previously, users had to “click through two menus” and manually search for “privacy violation,” but now the option will appear without the extra search. Meta said it will have results from the experiment “later this month" when it will decide whether to make the change permanent.

Notably, Meta declined to make another change that could make it easier for doxxing victims to get help more quickly. The company said that it would not act on a recommendation that it “create a specific channel of communications for victims of doxing” regardless of whether they are Facebook users. Meta noted that it’s already piloting some live chat help features, but said it “cannot commit to building a doxing-specific channel.”

Meta was also non-committal on a board recommendation that doxxing should be categorized as “severe” violation resulting in a temporary suspension. The company said it was “assessing the feasibility” of the suggestion and “exploring ways to incorporate elements of this recommendation.”

In addition to the substance of the policy changes, Meta’s response to the Oversight Board in this case is notable because it represents the first time the company had asked for a policy advisory opinion, received recommendations and issued a response. Typically, the board weighs in on specific moderation decisions, which can then impact the underlying policies. But Meta can also ask for help shaping broader rules, like it did with doxxing. The company has also asked for help in creating rules around its controversial “cross check” system.

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