Facebook Begins Rolling Out New Labels to Signify State-Controlled Media Outlets

Amid the ongoing discussion around how Facebook should approach commentary from political leaders, The Social Network is looking to role out yet another transparency measure, adding new explanatory notes on Pages, posts and ads which have been published by state-controlled media outlets.

State-backed media outlets are controlled by the governments in their respective regions, which generally means that their content is designed to present a specific, biased view of any topic or event. As such, providing additional transparency can help ensure that Facebook users are better informed when discussing or sharing such content across its network.

As explained by Facebook:

“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 that people should know if the news they read is coming from a publication that may be under the influence of a government.”

The new labels will appear in the Page info section on posts:

Facebook state-backed label

And in the Ad Library listings:

Facebook state-backed media labels

Facebook first announced the coming measure back in October as part of its latest round of transparency measures in the lead-up to the 2020 US Presidential Election. The new measures add to Facebook’s improved Page information listings, which include insight into where a Page is managed, and the Ad Library, which provides full oversight into ads being run by any Page.

Facebook also recently announced new location markers on business profile posts, which highlight where the managers of each Page or account are primarily located, adding further context. 

Providing clearer guidance on state-controlled media could see users second-guess the content shared by such Pages, and take a more analytical approach to any published claims. 

And in addition to this, Facebook will also soon block ads from state-controlled media Pages in the US:

“State-controlled media outlets rarely advertise in the US. Nevertheless, later this summer we will begin blocking ads from these outlets in the US 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 US.”

Whether those bans will be lifted again after the election is unclear, but it’s another way for Facebook to limit potential voter manipulation by politically-motivated outlets.

So what qualifies as a ‘state-controlled’ media organization?  

Facebook says that it’s consulted with “more than 65 experts around the world specializing in media, governance, and human rights and development” in order to establish a list of guidelines which define its approach to determining state-backed publishers. 

“We know that governments continue to use funding mechanisms to control media, but this alone doesn’t tell the full story. That’s why our definition of state-controlled media extends beyond just assessing financial control or ownership and includes an assessment of editorial control exerted by a government.”

Facebook says that it considers a range of factors, including:

  • Mission statement, mandate, and/or public reporting on how the organization defines and accomplishes its journalistic mission
  • Ownership structure such as information on owners, stakeholders, board members, management, government appointees in leadership positions, and disclosure of direct or indirect ownership by entities or individuals holding elected office
  • Editorial guidelines such as transparency around sources of content and independence and diversity of sources
  • Information about newsroom leadership and staff
  • Sources of funding and revenue
  • Governance and accountability mechanisms such as correctional policies, procedure for complaints, external assessments and oversight boards

These factors will guide Facebook’s categorization of state-controlled publishers, but publishers who feel that they’ve been incorrectly labeled as such will be able to appeal any such decision, and ask Facebook to remove the ‘state-controlled’ label on their listings.

Given the ongoing rise of Facebook as a political influence tool, it makes sense for the platform to add in more labels to help users better understand the information they’re seeing, and the factors which may have motivated the publication of any such post or comment. As noted, adding clear markers on posts from state-controlled outlets will certainly make some users second-guess sharing such, while it will also serve as a clarification measure within the comments, with users able to highlight potential bias in any such reporting.

That could have a significant impact – and while some of the measures will require users to tap through in order to find the ‘state-controlled’ label, the fact that Facebook is also looking to display it on the post is, in itself, a significant step.

Facebook state-controlled media

Often times, people won’t bother to tap-through for extra info, so the up-front labeling approach could make a big difference. 

The new state-controlled media labels will appear globally in the Ad Library Page view, on Pages, and in the Page Transparency section, while the post-specific labels will be shown to US users from next week. Facebook will add the state-controlled media to ads ‘later this Summer’.  

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