Russia Today Has a Sad over Facebook Block
How do you say, “Cry me a river” in Russian? Or better yet, sing the song in Russian and post to Facebook, which the Russia Today “subsidiary product” In the Now can no longer do?
“We had a subsidiary project in English, In the Now. The project was wildly popular — 2.5 billion views and four million subscribers on Facebook alone!” RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said on her Telegram social network account.
She said a report aired by CNN about the project being financed by the Russian state led to “Facebook immediately blocking us! Without presenting any of the accusations.”
“We didn’t violate any Facebook rules,” she said.
Simonyan said it should not be an issue that the page did not disclose its Russian funding to visitors.
Asked to comment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said RT “must receive an explanation from Facebook regarding what exactly was the reason” for it being blocked.
It was not possible to access the In the Now Facebook page on Monday.
A YouTube channel describes the project as striving “to build a community of mindful media consumers around important, curious and purpose-driven content.”
Launched on YouTube in March 2014, it makes no mention of any affiliation with RT or Russia and reports over 2.8 million views.
The topics of the most recent videos include cleaning up the oceans, the yellow vest protests in France, the rise of atheism and Russian football hooligans.
The EU-funded project EU vs Disinfo, a campaign to “respond to pro-Kremlin disinformation”, has said In the Now was launched to attract younger audiences turned off by RT’s political stories.
It does this “by adding videos with high emotional and entertainment value” which are used as “bait” to “camouflage” the project’s ties to Russia, EU vs Disinfo said.
The anger is probably cumulative, since the Russian online propaganda machine has had a rough few weeks. Last month, Facebook announced the removal of hundreds of Russian-affiliated pages:
The social media site eliminated about 500 pages, accounts, and groups across Europe and Central Asia that masqueraded as local outlets but amplified content from state-sponsored news agency Rossiya Segodnya and its subsidiary Sputnik. This marks the first time an online influence operation has been directly linked to Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.
And just this past Friday, Facebook took action against US focused pages, this time pages “run by Maffick Media, a company whose majority stakeholder is Ruptly, a subsidiary of RT, which is funded by the Russian government,” and In the Now once again makes an appearance: as reported by CNN:
Maffick runs three Facebook pages, Soapbox, which focuses on current affairs, Waste-Ed, an environmental channel, and Backthen, a history channel whose focus includes what it views as western imperialism. Together, the three pages have more than 30 million video views, though they’ve only been operating for a few months.
Since last September, Maffick has hired up to a dozen contractors and freelancers in Los Angeles, where they operate out of a shared WeWork office in Hollywood, according to two people familiar with the company.
Company records in Germany show that 51% of the company is owned by Ruptly. The remaining 49% is controlled by former RT presenter Anissa Naouai, who is Maffick’s CEO. The records were first reported by the German outlet T-online and later by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which brought it to CNN’s attention. The Alliance for Securing Democracy is part of the German Marshall Fund, which receives funding from the US, German and other governments. The Alliance for Securing Democracy says that while it is part of the German Marshall Fund, the ASD itself does not receive any funding from the GMF, and gets its money from private family funds and grants but not from government funding.
Sparks told CNN that Maffick started out as a holding company for another millennial-focused channel called In the Now.
In the Now was originally a television show on RT, hosted by Naouai. It has more than 3 million followers on Facebook and its ties to Russia have previously been reported. Sparks sent CNN a list of stories he said In the Now had covered that did not portray Russia in a positive light.
Facebook also suspended In the Now’s page on Friday.
RT is considered the “Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet,” according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
RT’s production company in the U.S. says its role is to “inform, not influence.”
Note the pattern, of trying to stay just within the rules as much as possible, then decrying the unfairness of it all when they are forced to reveal the backing – or blocked for not doing so – that they previously went to great lengths to hide. But it shouldn’t matter anyway. Or something.
They were not blocked for any other reason than refusing to disclose the source of their information/funding as Russia State Sponsored media. Which is the point; if it isn’t a big deal where the information is coming from, Russia Today and affiliated sites would not take pains to not disclose that. Facebook hasn’t gotten much right lately, but at least here they seem to have finally figured out the plot.
The online misinformation wars will continue to be a battle of react, adjust, and react again between governments, social media companies, and consumers. In the meantime, discernment has very much become the most valuable of commodities in the new online social media realm.