By Elizabeth Culliford
(Reuters) – Facebook owner Meta Platforms 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 Meta create a communications channel so that so-called doxxing victims can better explain their cases to the company.
Doxxing is the public release of sensitive information identifying an individual or organization, like a home address or phone number. It can lead to harassment or stalking.
Celebrities and private individuals have been affected by sharing of such information, which raises issues around privacy, public interest and civic activism. In a recent high-profile case, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling accused trans activists of doxxing her by posting a photo of her home on Twitter.
Meta’s independent oversight board, which includes academics, rights experts and lawyers, was created by the company to rule on a small slice of thorny content moderation appeals but it can also advise on site policies.
Last year, Meta requested a policy advisory opinion from the board on when private residential addresses and images may be published on Facebook and Instagram.
The company’s current rules say users should not share “personally identifiable information about yourself or others” but Meta may allow content like a person’s address to be posted if it is considered “publicly available.”
Meta’s internal guidance to content reviewers said information published by at least five news outlets or available through various public records did not count as private, the board said.
The board said Meta should remove this exemption and should ensure exceptions for newsworthy content should be consistently applied. It also said Meta should allow external images of private residences when the property is the focus of the news story, though not for organizing protests against the resident.
It was the first time Meta’s oversight board had responded to a request for a policy advisory opinion not related to a specific case. The company has 60 days to publicly respond.
The oversight board, which has ruled on cases such as the suspension of former U.S. President Donald Trump, has so far overturned Meta’s content decisions in 17 of 22 cases.
Twitter recently expanded its own privacy rules to ban the sharing of images and videos of private individuals without people’s consent, but soon acknowledged the new policy was being abused by malicious actors and that the company’s enforcement team had made mistakes.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; Editing by Mark Potter)