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Facebook blocks ‘wildly popular’ RT-run page

Facebook mobile app on a cellphone. (downloadsource.fr/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Facebook has blocked a popular page run by Russia’s state-funded RT television channel, saying it was part of ongoing efforts to improve its transparency program.

RT’s editor in chief Margarita Simonyan said on February 18 that Facebook had blocked a page related to her TV channel’s project in English called In the Now immediately after CNN reported that the project had been sponsored by the Kremlin.

Simonyan said on her Telegram social-network account that the project In the Now was “wildly popular,” with “2.5 billion views and 4 million subscribers on Facebook alone.”

“We didn’t violate any Facebook rules,” she also said.

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Facebook’s rules do not yet require people behind pages to say who they are.

However, a spokesperson said that the U.S-based social media giant was doing a phased roll-out of an update for pages with large audiences to provide information on where the pages are run from.

“We’ll be reaching out to administators of these Pages to ask that they disclose this additional information and their affiliation with their parent company to get back on the platform,” the statement said.

“People connecting with Pages shouldn’t be misled about who’s behind them,” it also said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that RT “must receive an explanation from Facebook regarding what exactly was the reason” for the page being blocked.

“Unfriendly countries have been using large companies that provide services in the social-media sector and other platforms to put pressure on the Russian media,” Peskov also said, adding that “RT will be able to protect its rights” and “the issue will be solved.”

RT has been accused by U.S. intelligence agencies of being used by the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

That charge led to an order from the U.S. Justice Department in September 2017 for RT to register its U.S. operator as a “foreign agent.” The allegations also prompted Twitter to ban advertising from RT and Sputnik, a state-run news agency and website.

RT, formerly known as Russia Today, broadcasts in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic.

Russia Today was set up in the mid-2000s to counter what Russian President Vladimir Putin saw as the dominance of U.S. and British media organizations, which he says have a pro-Western bias.

The channel is seen by analysts as giving a platform to conspiracy theorists as well as far-right or antiestablishment figures who attack what they portray as Western hypocrisy and corruption.