SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc (FB.O) will start labeling Russian, Chinese and other state-controlled media organizations, and later this summer will block any ads from such outlets that target U.S. users, it said on Thursday.
The world’s biggest social network will apply the label to Russia’s Sputnik, Iran’s Press TV and China’s Xinhua News, according to a partial list Facebook provided. The company will apply the label to about 200 pages at the outset.
Facebook will not label any U.S.-based news organizations for now, as it determined that even U.S. government-run outlets have editorial independence, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in an interview.
Facebook, which has acknowledged its failure to stop Russian use of its platforms to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has since stepped up its defenses and imposed greater transparency requirements for pages and ads on its platforms.
The company announced plans last year to create a state media label, but is introducing it amid criticism over its hands-off treatment of misleading and racially charged posts by U.S. President Donald Trump.
The new measure comes just months ahead of the November U.S. presidential election.
Under the move, 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.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters during a daily briefing in Beijing on Friday that social media companies should not selectively create obstacles for media agencies.”We hope that the relevant social media platform can put aside the ideological bias and hold an open and accepting attitude towards each country’s media role,” he said.
Sputnik in a statement shared with Reuters urged governments “to regulate Facebook when it tries to impose U.S.-inspired suppression of the freedom of speech.”
Facebook is not the first company to take such action.
YouTube, owned by Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O), in 2018 started identifying video channels that predominantly carry news items and are funded by governments. But critics charge YouTube has failed to label some state news outlets, allowing them to earn ad revenue from videos with misinformation and propaganda.
In a blog post, Facebook said its label would appear on pages globally, as well as on News Feed posts within the United States.
Facebook also said it would ban U.S.-targeted ads from state-controlled entities “out of an abundance of caution” ahead of the November presidential election. Elsewhere, the ads will receive a label.
Reporting by Katie Paul; additional reporting by Huizhong Wu in Beijing; Editing by Leslie Adler, Mark Potter and David Gregorio