Government-funded news organizations fear that Facebook's impending plan to label content from state-controlled news organizations could harm them.
When Facebook announced it plans to affix such labels in October, there was no information available on the criteria to be used to determine whether a media company was "state controlled". As the company prepares to use these labels, news organizations have been left in the dark. "This is a dangerous step to delegitimize credible journalism," said Giles Trendle, general manager of Al Jazeera English, told BuzzFeed News: "We know neither the criteria nor the persons [involved]. "
Facebook and other social media platforms respond to political pressure in the United States and elsewhere to avoid repeating the 2016 elections, which in particular served the Russian government's English-language broadcaster, the content of which Russia's foreign policy line exactly reflects and strengthens. In a report released by the Senate Secret Service Committee last fall, RT was described as an instrument in the “modern Russian disinformation playbook”. (In Google searches for the report, RT has a high level of its own repellent reporting.)
But Al Jazeera's case shows how Facebook's decisions about whether companies are controlled by the state are spread across a broad and blurred spectrum , which ranges from RT to the BBC, which has a long tradition of independence from British government policy. Al Jazeera is financed by the government of Qatar, but insists that it is completely independent and operated through a foundation in the Gulf state. The company fears that it will receive the "state-controlled" label. A November letter to Facebook (first reported by CNN) said "it would do irreparable harm to the network."
Facebook declined to provide its criteria for evaluating state-controlled companies for BuzzFeed News. She declined to share the list of publishers to which she would like to apply the label. The company also declined to indicate which language should appear on the label. However, there will be a complaints procedure and advice will be sought from outside organizations such as Reporters Without Borders and UNESCO. Google has similar labels on YouTube, but they appear when a government-sponsored release is not "controlled". Twitter said in August that it would stop state-controlled media companies from advertising on its platform.
Controlled Media uses government support to promote opinion. We have committed to labeling these sites and will do so soon, ”said a Facebook spokesman in an email to BuzzFeed News. “The first group is just the first step, and we will continue to expand and add more pages over time. We continue to work with third-party publishers and experts to ensure that we are doing it right. “
For Al Jazeera executives, such vague statements ring alarm bells. "What we really ask for is transparency," Yaser Bishr, managing director of digital at Al Jazeera Media Network, told BuzzFeed News. "You have to prove that we are controlled."
Al Jazeera executives fear that Facebook's labeling as state-controlled media could physically endanger reporters. It could also be armed by competitors in the region who dislike their reporting, which is part of a feared retaliation campaign against Qatar that is being blocked by several states.
Al Jazeera executives said they believe they do. The label is partly due to lobbying in the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the blockade – and the home of Facebook's regional office.
"Absolutely, it's politically motivated," added Bishr. A recent story about Saudi spies on Twitter had also raised the alarm: "We were very alarmed when we heard about the Saudis' penetration of Twitter. We connect the dots, "he said.
Facebook refused to provide the criteria for this. The use of the state-controlled media label to reveal who it is aimed at and how it will make such statements reflects the long history of the company, published in with News feed changes have been faced that can have a dramatic impact on advertising and ad revenue.
Voice Of America, a US government-funded news source that broadcasts abroad, proposed in a statement that it had more political insight and emphasized its legal distance from active government control Art of an appointed body.
"We welcome efforts to ensure the integrity of information online," said VOA Director Amanda Bennett, "and are working closely with social and digital platforms to ensure that they meet our public service mission understand support for a free and open press and our legally protected independence from political institutions. “
Meanwhile, RT attacked the initiative to put a warning sign on its sides. "We anticipate that Facebook's efforts to tag content will be as good as blocking RT's Borschtsch recipe pages last month," said RT Belbina editor-in-chief Anna BuzzFeed News. "We will no doubt see the same gimmicks as Google, for which some publicly funded businesses were more government funded than others."