Facebook Starts Labeling Foreign State-Run Media
Science & TechTom Ozimek

Facebook announced Thursday that it has started labeling posts from state-controlled media outlets, including ones with links to Russia and China.

The social media giant first floated the idea in October 2019, when it announced that it was working on labeling state-controlled media on their Facebook Pages and in the Ad Library as part of “several new measures to help protect the democratic process.”

“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,” wrote Nathan Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity, in a published statement on Thursday.

The labels will first appear globally in the Ad Library Page view, on Pages, and in the Page Transparency section, while in the United States they will start to appear on News Feed posts starting next week.

Facebook will apply the label to around 200 pages at the outset, including Russia’s Sputnik, Iran‘s Press TV, and China’s Xinhua News, according to a partial list Facebook provided.

Advertisements from state-controlled outlets will start receiving the label starting this summer, Gleicher stated.

Xinhua News Agency
Firefighters stand outside the offices of China’s Xinhua News Agency after its windows were shattered during protests in Hong Kong on Nov. 2, 2019. (Kin Cheung/AP Photo)

Gleicher said in an interview that the company will not apply the label to any U.S.-based news outlets, as it determined that even U.S. government-run outlets have editorial independence.

Under the measure, Facebook will not use the label for media outlets affiliated with individual political figures or parties, which Gleicher said could push “boundaries that are very, very slippery.”

“What we want to do here is start with the most critical case,” he said.

Gleicher said Facebook’s definition of state-controlled media was informed by experts on media, governance, human rights, and development.

“We know that governments continue to use funding mechanisms to control media, but this alone doesn’t tell the full story,” Gleicher wrote. “That’s why our definition of state-controlled media extends beyond just assessing financial control or ownership and includes an assessment of editorial control exerted by a government.”

One media company to challenge Facebook after it announced plans for the state-run labels is Al Jazeera. It is funded by the Qatari government but insists it has editorial independence and in a November letter (pdf) to Facebook said such a label “would cause irreparable harm” to the outlet.

Media outlets can submit an appeal if they believing they have been mislabeled by Facebook.

Reuters contributed to this report.