Russia State Media Calls Facebook 'Technological Dictatorship' Over Warning Label, Says It's 'In Bed' With U.S. Establishment

Facebook's plan to slap transparency warning notices on state media outlets has been criticized by RT, a Kremlin-linked media organization.

The social network said Thursday that it would label outlets that are "wholly or partially under editorial control of governments," prompting a response from a channel described by the U.S. as being Russia's "principal international propaganda outlet."

"A U.S. company long in bed with the U.S. establishment, telling the entire rest of the world what it can and cannot say, is the definition of a technological dictatorship and censorship," an RT spokesperson said after the announcement.

"Labeling foreign editorially independent news outlets as anything but is, on top of fostering prejudice and xenophobia, a prime example of the very 'fake news' that Facebook is supposedly trying to combat," the statement continued.

According to Facebook, the platform will block or label ads from state-backed news in the U.S. later this summer, ahead of the next presidential election.

The decision was made "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.," said executive Nathaniel 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." Gleicher, who handles cyber policy, said.

The move comes after Russia was shown to be exploiting Facebook and other social networks to spread misinformation during the 2016 election cycle.

It is expected that RT (formerly Russia Today), Sputnik, Iran's Press TV and China's CCTV and Xinhua News will be hit with the initial transparency notices.

RT has amassed a large global audience since its formation in 2005, and its Facebook page alone currently boasts more than six million followers.

A search shows the warning label applied to Sputnik now reads: "Russia state-controlled media." RT has complained that the BBC, which is now labeled on Facebook as owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation, carries "noticeably softer language."

The BBC is primarily funded by a license fee and non-payment is criminal offense. The top penalty for not having a license is a £1,000 fine.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been widely criticized in recent days for declining to place a warning label on a controversial post from President Donald Trump in which he used the loaded phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

The decision to leave the post online sparked employee revolt this week. Staffers staged a "virtual walkout" on Monday while publicly complaining about the leadership on Twitter, which earlier restricted the same Trump message for "glorifying violence."

The move to label state-backed media outlets was welcomed by Renee DiResta, a prominent researcher with the Stanford Internet Observatory.

"This is an important step forward," DiResta tweeted. "Each platform has taken some steps toward a policy on state media. More transparency around where messages are coming from is important. Particularly as sensational stories go viral so quickly."

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on "An Examination of Facebook and Its Impact on the Financial Services and Housing Sectors" in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC on October 23, 2019. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty