Facebook restores Russia-linked pages

Facebook said Monday that it would allow a network of millennial-focused pages tied to the Russian state-backed media outlet RT back on its platform after having previously suspended them following inquiries by CNN.

Facebook suspended the pages, run by a company called Maffick Media, on Friday, February 15th, as CNN was preparing a report on Maffick’s ties to RT, which is funded by the Russian government. RT’s subsidiary Ruptly is Maffick’s majority stakeholder.

Facebook does not have a formal policy in place requiring state-backed outlets to disclose their funding, and its handling of the Maffick pages appears to be an ad-hoc approach that only came about after CNN asked about the pages.

Senator Mark Warner, the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee — which has been investigating disinformation operations on Facebook — said in a statement provided to CNN on Monday, “At this point, Facebook should have established a clear policy when it comes to state-supported media.”

“While I’m pleased Facebook made the RT-linked groups disclose the affiliation to RT in their ‘About’ section, this kind of disclosure should be clear and conspicuous,” he added.

A Facebook spokesperson told CNN in a statement on Monday that the company was working on making pages on its platform more transparent.

The spokesperson added, “we are also starting to ask Pages that exhibit potentially misleading behavior to disclose their affiliation with their parent company. For example, we reached out to Maffick Media to request that they disclose the affiliation of their Pages with its parent companies. The required information has now been added to the About section of these Pages to indicate their affiliation with RT and Ruptly so people can learn who’s behind the Pages they’re interacting with on Facebook.”

Facebook didn’t announce a new policy on Monday, but the spokesperson said the company is contacting operators of pages that it deems “exhibit potentially misleading behavior” in a new initiative and “we will have more to share soon.”

Earlier on Monday, Maffick’s CEO Anissa Naouai, a former RT presenter, tweeted that Facebook was likely to restore her company’s pages, “BUT we have to update our about section in a manner NO other page has been required to do. I guess you could say we are making Facebook history or are the victims of blatant double standards.”

Maffick did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the pages were restored.

In contrast with Facebook, YouTube has since last year had a policy of labeling videos on its platform that are produced by state-funded media outlets.

Maffick says it is editorially independent of RT. Like RT, Maffick’s videos are generally critical of US foreign policy and the mainstream American media, while largely avoiding criticism of the Russian government. Much of its content, like much of RT’s in the US, fits comfortably within fairly mainstream American politics, especially on the left. The company is registered in Germany but 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.