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Meta Oversight Board urges Facebook to protect users from doxing

The social media giant had called on the Board to advise on exemptions around "publicly available" data

Meta's Oversight Board has urged the social network to change a policy that allows the sharing of people's addresses over fears it could lead to online harassment.  

The company, formally known as Facebook, requested the advice last year as it struggled to find clarity on the issue itself. 

One of the company's biggest concerns was "doxing", a form of online harassment that involves uncovering someone's personal details, such as name, address, and occupation, to expose them publicly on the internet. In its request to the Oversight Board, Meta said that doxing can have "negative real-world consequences, such as harassment or stalking".

In response, the Oversight Board has issued a 17-point plan that calls on a "publicly available" exemption to be scrapped. It has also urged Meta to "swiftly" respond to anyone that reports a case of doxing, regardless of whether they have a Facebook account. 

Meta currently applies this type of information, which is often publicly available anyway, under a policy called the Facebook Privacy Violations Community Standard, which states that users should not share "personally identifiable information about themselves or others".

This includes addresses, but it comes with exemptions when shared in the context of charity or to find missing people and animals and also for business contacts.

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Imagery that shows a users address is also included, but that may be allowed if it features in things such as press releases, court filings and news coverage. For example, Meta's internal guidance classes information as "no longer private" if it is published by at least five news outlets.

The board's recommendations come after a spate of leaks over social media involving the addresses of high-profile users, such as the writer of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling. Once the Board's recommendations are finalised, Meta will have 30 days to respond. 

What is Meta's Oversight Board?

This appears to be the first time that Meta has called on its Oversight Board for advice. The body was created in 2018 to set "content moderation decisions" and provide settlement, negotiation and mediation services to Facebook, which also includes overriding the company's decisions if it sees fit to do so. 

The board is made up of 20 members, all of which began work in October 2020, and its biggest referral to date is the decision to ban former president Donald Trump from the platform following the Capitol Hill riots

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