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Facebook starts labeling Russian, Chinese, and Iranian state media

Facebook HQ. (eston/Flickr)

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

Facebook says it has begun to label state-controlled media organizations such as Russia’s Sputnik, Iran’s Press TV, and China’s Xinhua News so that people know whether the content they read is coming from an entity that may be under the influence of a state.

The social media company announced plans to create a state media label in October 2019, and on June 4 said it had started to apply the labels.

“We’re providing greater transparency into these publishers because they combine the influence of a media organization with the strategic backing of a state,” Facebook said.

The company will initially apply the label to about 200 pages.

Under the section “Page Transparency” at Sputnik’s page, the label says: “This publisher is partially or wholly under the editorial control of a state. This is determined by a range of factors, including but not limited to funding, structure, and journalistic standards.”

The same message appears at the page of China’s Xinhua News.

Facebook will not label any U.S.-based news organizations after determining that U.S. government-run outlets have editorial independence, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in an interview with Reuters.

Facebook also will not use the label for media outlets affiliated with individual political figures or parties, Gleicher said.

The label will appear on pages globally and on news-feed posts within the United States.

The company said it consulted more than 65 experts around the world specializing in media, governance, and human rights and development to form its policy.

“The input we received from these organizations was crucial to understanding the different ways and degrees to which governments exert editorial control over media entities,” Facebook said.

It said its definition of state-controlled media extended beyond examining financial control or ownership to include an assessment of editorial control exerted by a government.

It looks at several factors, including mission statement, ownership structure, editorial guidelines, sources of funding, and governance and accountability mechanisms.

“If we determine that there are enough protections in place to ensure editorial independence, we will not apply the label,” it said.

It specifically looks for things such as a statute that clearly protects editorial independence and an assessment by an independent, credible organization verifying that the statute is followed.

Organizations that believe the label has been applied in error can submit an appeal, it added.

Facebook also said that later this year it will block any ads from state-controlled media that target U.S. users. It said it would take the step “to ensure we’re equally transparent when it comes to paid content from these publishers.”

It added that state-controlled media outlets rarely advertise in the United States, but it will carry out the policy “out an abundance of caution” ahead of the November 3 elections in the United States.

Facebook has previously acknowledged its failure to stop Russian use of its platforms to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Since then it has stepped up its defenses and imposed greater transparency requirements for pages and ads on its platforms.