Facebook Will Start Labeling State-Controlled Media Outlets

Facebook will start rolling out labels for state-controlled media outlets ahead of this year’s U.S. elections, an initiative the company first announced in October.

“We’re providing greater transparency into these publishers because they combine the influence of a media organization with the strategic backing of a state, and we believe people should know if the news they read is coming from a publication that may be under the influence of a government,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, wrote in a blog post.

Media outlets that are “wholly or partially under the editorial control of their government” will be labeled as such. 

Facebook will also start labeling ads from state-controlled media outlets. Gleicher said that while such entities “rarely advertise” in the U.S., Facebook will begin blocking any ads from state-controlled media this summer “out of an abundance of caution … against various types of foreign influence” ahead of the November elections. The labels will be shown in the ad library and on account pages; in the United States, the label will appear in the news feed, too. 

Facebook said it consulted 65 experts to determine which media companies are not editorially independent from governments going beyond whether an outlet is owned or funded by the state. YouTube started labeling videos from state-funded outlets in 2018, though ProPublica reported on more than 50 omissions last year. 

While Facebook did not respond to a request for a full list of the outlets it has labeled, Adweek found transparency labels on the pages of Russian media companies Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as China’s Xinhua News Agency and the People’s Daily, and Iran’s Press TV. 

Facebook came under intense scrutiny for its role in the 2016 presidential election, in which many believe fake news and foreign disinformation campaigns played a role in electing President Donald Trump. In 2017, Facebook admitted that fake Russian accounts purchased $100,000 worth of ads as part of a larger campaign to boost Trump. Since the election, Facebook has made a more public effort to crack down on foreign influence campaigns.

The move comes at a tenuous time for the social media giant, which has been under fire during the ongoing protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Last week, Facebook decided not to take action on Trump’s post that appeared to suggest shooting unarmed protesters, a post that Twitter restricted on its own platform. In response to the decision, which many saw as racist and inciting violence, some staffers have publicly condemned CEO Mark Zuckerberg, participated in a walkout and resigned this week.

Last weekend, Snapchat decided to stop promoting Trump on its Discover page due to separate statements about violence against protesters made off the platform.

While Facebook makes decisions that provide context and transparency to media operations and tries to foreign influence campaigns on its platform, its inaction on the president’s social media activity has brought intense scrutiny along with severe internal pressure. 

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