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Signage in front of the Facebook Inc. headquarters in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Facebook has long said that it applies the same rules to all posts, but internal documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal paint a picture of a company that allowed millions of politicians, celebrities and other high-profile users to break those rules without consequence.

Why it matters: It's hard to limit misinformation on a platform when you give a free pass to those with the most reach.

Details: According to the Journal, Facebook's XCheck program, established to make sure that content reviews of posts by high-profile users were handled with extra care, often gave VIPs a free pass to violate the company's rules.

  • Some were "whitelisted" and allowed to post whatever they want.
  • For others, content issues were passed along to a separate team, which often failed to take action or sometimes even follow-up on reports.
  • By 2020, there were 5.8 million accounts included in the program, the Journal said.

Between the lines: A confidential internal review in 2019 found the practice was both widespread and "not publicly defensible," the Journal reported.

The other side: Facebook, for its part, told the Journal that criticism of the system was "fair" but added that the company is phasing out the practice of whitelisting.

  • "A lot of this internal material is outdated information stitched together to create a narrative that glosses over the most important point: Facebook itself identified the issues with cross check and has been working to address them," Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement to the Journal.

Go deeper

The anatomy of social media's mad-making machine

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Facebook and other social media companies didn't cause America's massive political divide, but they have widened it and pushed it towards violence, according to a report from New York University released Monday.

Why it matters: Congress, the Biden administration and governments around the world are moving on from blame-apportioning to choosing penalties and remedies for curbing online platforms' influence and fighting misinformation.

Updated 42 mins ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

1 hour ago - World

Hong Kong holds first "patriots only" elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a news conference last Monday. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua via Getty Images

Hong Kong's elections to choose the city's Election Committee members opened to a select group of voters on Sunday, under a new "patriots only" system imposed by China's government.

Why it matters: All candidates running to be members of the electoral college have been "vetted" by Beijing, per Reuters. They will go on to choose the Asian financial hub's next leader, approved by China's government, and some of its legislature.