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October 14, 2021 - Herring Seeks Answers on Facebook XCheck Protections for “Disinformation Dozen”

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Commonwealth of Virginia Office of the Attorney General

Mark Herring Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street Richmond, Virginia 23219


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RICHMOND – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined 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.


“We have all seen how Facebook can be used to spread misinformation, conspiracy theories, anti-vaccine information, and other dangerous ideas,” said Attorney General Herring. “I’m concerned with this revelation about ‘XCheck’ protections for certain users on Facebook that has allowed millions of designated users to circumvent the social media platform’s rules, potentially leading to the spread of disinformation, harassment, or even inciting violence. Facebook needs to be forthright with the information that they have concerning who was granted protections under ‘XCheck’ and whether those individuals may have spread dangerous information and advice.”


In their letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues are pushing Facebook to disclose whether any members of the “Disinformation Dozen” have received XCheck whitelist protection. The coalition also asks 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.


In March, Attorney General Herring called 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.


Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of Connecticut, California, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.


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