Facebook should tighten doxing rules on home addresses, says its oversight board

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Facebook Meta Platforms’ owner should not allow users to share people’s private residential information on its platforms, even when the information is publicly available, the company’s oversight board said in its first policy advisory opinion.

The board also recommended that Meta create a communication channel so that so-called victims of doxing can better explain their cases to the company. Doxxing is the public disclosure of sensitive information that identifies a person or organization, such as a home address or phone number. It can lead to harassment or stalking.

Celebrities and individuals have been affected by sharing such information, raising issues related to privacy, public interest and civic activism. In a recent high-profile case, Harry Potter author JK Rowling accused trans activists of misleading her by posting a photo of her home on Twitter of her.

Meta’s independent oversight board, which includes academics, legal experts and lawyers, was created by the company to rule on a small portion of thorny content moderation appeals, but can also advise on the site’s policies.

Last year, Meta requested a policy advisory opinion from the board on when private residential addresses and images can be posted on Facebook and Instagram.

The company’s current rules say users should not share “personally identifiable information about you or others,” but Meta can allow content like a person’s address to be posted if it’s deemed “publicly available.”

Meta’s internal guidance for content reviewers said that information published by at least five media outlets or available through various public registries did not count as private, the board said.

The board said Meta should remove this exemption and ensure exceptions for newsworthy content are applied consistently. He also said that Meta should allow external images of private residences when the property is the focus of the news, although not to organize protests against the resident.

It was the first time that the Meta supervisory board had responded to a request for a policy advisory opinion unrelated to a specific case. The company has 60 days to respond publicly.

The oversight board, which has ruled on cases such as the suspension of former US President Donald Trump, has so far reversed Meta’s content decisions in 17 of 22 cases.

Twitter recently expanded its own privacy rules to prohibit the sharing of images and videos of private individuals without people’s consent, but soon acknowledged that malicious actors were abusing the new policy and that the company’s compliance team had committed mistakes.

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