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Facebook shuts pages with millions of subscribers after CNN report ties them with RT

The undated photo shows the logo of social networking website Facebook.

Facebook has suspended three video-centric pages run by Maffick Media without prior notice, shortly after CNN ran a report about the Germany-based company’s alleged ties to Russia, a controversial move that infuriated Maffick, which branded it as “new McCarthyism.”

In a Friday report titled “Kremlin funds viral videos aimed at millennials,” CNN said three online video channels, Soapbox, Back Then and Waste-Ed, have since September 2018 managed to collect tens of millions of views on Facebook, yet Maffick deliberately hides from the viewers the fact that Moscow “is paying” for the channels.

A few hours after the report was aired from the American news-based pay television channel, Facebook suspended the three pages and said in a statement that it would reach out to the owners of the pages, who it said did not properly disclose where the pages were managed from or their purported affiliation with the Kremlin.

“People connecting with pages shouldn’t be misled about who’s behind them. Just as we’ve stepped up our enforcement of coordinated inauthentic behavior and financially motivated spam over the past year, we’ll continue improving so people can get more information about the pages they follow,” a Facebook spokesperson further said.

The CNN report said Maffick Media is “mostly” owned by Ruptly, a video news agency, which is a subsidiary of Russia’s state-run RT (formerly Russia Today) network, accusing the company of misleading its audience by concealing the fact that Moscow is financially supporting the channels.

This combo shows the logos of four video-centric channels whose pages on Facebook were suspended on February 15, 2019. (Photo by RT)

On Monday, RT said in a report that Russia’s partial backing of the company was in fact “an open secret” and that no special effort had been made to hide the funding sources.

It added that what CNN claimed about Maffick Media that it is “mostly” owned by Ruptly is a mere exaggeration, since CNN reporters themselves, who used an online commercial registers database to acquire documents, showed that Maffick is only 51 percent owned by Ruptly.

Furthermore, Maffick’s pages on Facebook were not told that they were required to put a “glowing stamp” on the pages, saying that they were "paid for by the Kremlin,” RT said, adding that the remaining 49 percent is owned by Maffick CEO Anissa Naouai, an American journalist of Tunisian descent, who formerly worked as a reporter and presenter for RT, which is a known fact.

Before launching her independent project, Naouai founded the In The Now show aired by RT. Facebook also shut down the page of this show on Friday, without giving any explanation.   

In a statement published on its official website, Maffick Media said it did not break any of the social media network’s rules, which as of now do not demand that anyone post funding details on their Facebook pages. “Likewise while we haven’t posted funding details on our Facebook pages etc, neither have any of our international peers,” it said.

No official requests have so far been filed with Maffick Media and no explanation whatsoever has been provided by Facebook regarding shutting down the viral video company’s three pages, which remained offline on Monday.

“One reason and one reason only: The government that helps fund our company is Russia. We did not violate any of Facebook’s policies whatsoever. None of our content promotes disinformation or fake news. Yet CNN pressured Facebook into unprecedented censorship in a desperate attempt to milk ratings by stoking hysteria over Russia,” Maffick further said.

It also lambasted Facebook’s move as a new type of “McCarthyism,” which deserved to be called out and needed to stop.

“We hope that Facebook will articulate clear, consistent policies and protocols regarding obligatory funding disclosures which will be applied evenly across all pages. In the meantime, please turn our pages back on so we can keep publishing top quality social videos,” Maffick added.

This is not the first time that Facebook and Twitter have cracked down on freedom of information, shutting down pages on allegations that they have been connected to Iran or Russia or after accusing them of disseminating anti-West propaganda.

In early February, Facebook and Twitter said they had taken down hundreds of accounts they claim have been part of “coordinated influence operations” from Iran, Russia and Venezuela.

Facebook said it had removed 783 pages, groups, and accounts for "engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior tied to Iran."

The accounts, some of which had been active since 2010, had garnered about 2 million followers on Facebook and more than 250,000 followers on Instagram.

Late last August, Facebook targeted hundreds of accounts allegedly tied to Iran and Russia under the pretext of fighting what it calls “misinformation” campaigns.

“Today we removed multiple Pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram. Some of this activity originated in Iran, and some originated in Russia,” the California-based company announced in a post on August 21.

Among the accounts was one belonging to the Quest 4 Truth (Q4T) Iranian media organization, which promotes Islamic values.


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