Facebook said Thursday it will block state-owned media outlets from advertising on its platform in the U.S. to protect against possible efforts to interfere in November’s election.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, made the announcement in a blog post highlighting the company’s new policies for media outlets wholly or partially under the editorial control of their government.
“State-controlled media outlets rarely advertise in the U.S.,” wrote Mr. Gleicher. “Nevertheless, later this summer we will begin blocking ads from these outlets in the U.S. out of an abundance of caution to provide an extra layer of protection against various types of foreign influence in the public debate ahead of the November 2020 election in the U.S.”
Facebook has also begun labeling the pages of state-controlled media outlets as such and will start similarly flagging posts made by those accounts as well, explained Mr. Gleicher.
“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,” he wrote.
Facebook consulted with dozens of experts from around the world prior to creating a policy to determine whether a media outlet is wholly or partially state-controlled, he added.
Among the factors Facebook will consider when deciding if a publisher should be categorized as state-controlled are their mission statements, ownership structure, editorial guidelines and sources of funding, among others, wrote Mr. Gleicher. Publishers who have their content labeled under the new policy will be able to appeal to Facebook, his post said.
Facebook’s latest steps come roughly four years since its flagship social network and sister service Instagram were exploited by Russian users during the 2016 U.S. presidential race. The company previously said millions of users viewed ads and other posts created by the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” with alleged ties to the Kremlin.
The Department of Justice later announced criminal charges against more than a dozen Russians implicated in that effort – one of several operations conducted by Moscow to interfere in the 2016 election “in sweeping and systematic fashion,” according to Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who led the government’s probe of race.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, applauded Facebook in a statement later Thursday for its decision to label state outlets.
“Facebook’s debut of labels for state-controlled media pages is a long-awaited and crucial step to keeping users fully informed about the sources of information they may encounter on the platform — especially when such sources are no more than mouthpieces or propagandists doing the bidding of their central governments,” said Mr. Schiff, a California Democrat whose congressional committee was among several that probe Russian interference in the 2016 race in addition to the Justice Department.
“This is the right course of action, and an important step to helping users stay vigilant against potential attempts by foreign adversaries to shape strategic narratives or spread disinformation under the guise of ‘independent’ journalism,” he said in a statement.
Major online platforms practically across the board subsequently took steps after several social media services faced criticism for allowing foreign misinformation to spread during the 2016 race, including a decision by YouTube in early 2018 to start labeling content posted by state-funded broadcasters, not unlike one of Facebook’s latest measures.
Russia has denied interfering in the U.S. electoral process.