China Objects to Facebook Labeling State-Controlled Media Organizations

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks during his online video link press conference during the National People's Congress (NPC) at the media centre in Beijing on May 24, 2020. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP) (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

The Chinese Foreign Ministry objected on Friday to Facebook’s policy that state-controlled media organizations will now be labeled as such.

Authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea invariably have state-run media, which they would prefer unwitting readers to see as credible independent news organizations.

“Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters during a daily briefing that any media agency operating in line with relevant laws of various countries should be treated equally,” Reuters reported.

Facebook announced the policy in October and began implementation this week. In the first stage, American users of Facebook will see labels on both posts and advertisements from state-run media organizations. 

Users in other countries will begin seeing these labels in the future, and Facebook intends to begin banning state media operations from buying advertisements in the United States altogether. These measures were explained as an “abundance of caution” against “foreign influence in the public debate.”

“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,” said Facebook cybersecurity policy chief Nathanial Gleicher.

According to Gleicher, Facebook will consider who owns a media organization, who funds it, how much direct influence government agencies exercise over its editorial content, and how transparent it is about ownership and control before deciding to label it “state media.” Government funding will not be enough by itself to earn the designation.

Gleicher also said the degree of press freedom allowed in a media source’s country of origin would play a role in determining whether Facebook considers it “state media.” The label is more likely to be applied to media from a country with a low degree of press freedom in general, such as Singapore. 

In a statement likely to rankle those countries with little press freedom, Gleicher said no American media organizations currently meet Facebook’s criteria for state media, including those actually owned by the U.S. government, because even those operations enjoy a high degree of editorial independence.

The label announces to Facebook users that a flagged media organization is “partially or wholly under the editorial control of a state,” and indicates which one.


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