The social network will leverage the government’s data to bring “state-owned” websites under its reach. News outlets that disagree with this will be demonetized and blacklisted.
Last year, The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) defended the First Amendment rights of a U.S. district court judge, who blocked Facebook’s plan to call Arab news website Al Jazeera "state-controlled" on several occasions. The EFF later condemned Facebook for infringing on the idea of balanced journalism when it listed different news sources in December.
Facebook says it’s doing it to make your newsfeed more "reliable." Al Jazeera says it’s “dangerous” to demonetize the organization.
During Facebook’s annual Q3-2018 earnings call Monday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg were asked about Facebook’s plan to call certain countries and media outlets “state-controlled.” They replied that the company was just doing a better job in identifying state-controlled news outlets.
Facebook said it would “call it out” so that people could “figure out the different state controls.”
“I think that we have, in the last year, grown as a media company, right? We have become more comfortable talking about our work and calling out things that we think are media,” Sandberg said. “That’s actually very important for us, right? It takes a lot of trust to call things out, right?”
Specifically, Facebook has said it will “call out” the state-controlled sites in targeted countries that violate its community standards, according to Reuters.
Al Jazeera’s Global Media Editor Jurrien Timmer disagrees that Facebook has improved its ability to distinguish between domestic and foreign news sources.
“We expect this [feature] to add further fuel to the fire around fake news, which has already been burning for too long,” Timmer said in a statement. “It’s clear Facebook are attempting to buy off critics and cement their monopoly on news, rather than developing appropriate standards that could stem the disinformation crisis of today.”
“I think it’s dangerous to use the term ‘state-controlled’ to describe a network of organizations who think differently about certain ideas,” he added. “It could be a satire site — or a publisher of human rights reporting, or a political satirist — or just a blog that practices responsible citizen journalism. Or, more frighteningly, something like a blog that receives funding from a government-backed organization funded by the state.”
Timmer said this type of labeling puts outlets in a dangerous spot.
“There are many editors at Al Jazeera who are operating behind the radar at present and we’d expect that to continue. They will not be fooled by Facebook calling us a ‘state-controlled news agency’. They will see that as an act of aggression against their outlets by Facebook,” he said.
“And that leaves us, and others like us, open to demonetization and possibly even acquisition by Facebook. If that does happen, we might as well just be useful-y, since they’ll have already gone out of their way to distort our ideas.”
Last year, the EFF defended the First Amendment rights of Judge John Minor Walsh, who temporarily blocked Facebook from using a term meant to depict Iran's state news agency ISNA and other news outlets “state-controlled” because it was “harmful to the reputation of Facebook itself.”
Facebook was also banned from using the term earlier that year, during a purge of pro-Sarkozy news users. Facebook apologized for the use of the term, saying it wanted to make sure political discussion on its platform was being fair and balanced.
However, this comment failed to address the deep conflict of interest that has been presented as a way of supporting its mission to better inform the public. It resulted in an expanded ban on calling people state-controlled.
So, why is Facebook expected to approach things differently and succeed in separating Saudi Arabia from any sort of news outlet called “state-controlled”?
“The same way that it has tried to deflect criticism for years by spending a lot of energy running its own investigations on ‘fake news’ and the role of foreign actors in the US election, it’s now turning its attention to individual news organisations,” Timmer wrote.
“And Facebook has proven itself so adept at exploiting its own negative image and perceptions to further its very own agenda, that we think it’