Facebook suspends three pages with millions of video views, saying that they need to disclose ties with Russia

Photo: Richard Drew (AP)

Facebook has suspended three video-centric pages managed by Maffick Media, a company mostly owned by Ruptly, a subsidiary of the state-owned RT network (formerly Russia Today), CNN reported on Friday.

According to the CNN report, Facebook said it would contact the owners of the pages, which said not to properly disclose where the pages were handled or their affiliation with the Russian government. (Maffick Media hires contractors in Los Angeles but is registered in Germany, not in the US) That Ruptly is a state-owned service is all but a secret, even though Maffick Media is 51% owned by it seems to be been kept relatively quiet.

CNN wrote that Maffick's chief operating officer, J. Ray Sparks, stated that it was a "standard business practice" for operators on a Facebook page not to recognize their property:

"People who connect to Pages should not be misled about who is behind them Just as we have strengthened our application of coordinated inauthentic behavior and financially motivated spam over the past year, we will continue to improve in so that people can get more information on the pages that follow, "a spokesman for Facebook said in a statement.

CNN spoke with Maffick representatives before Facebook suspended pages. Maffick's chief operating officer, J. Ray Sparks, said Maffick is editorially independent and said it was "standard business practice" not to disclose ownership of a Facebook page. "The general public is never interested in these things and the standard practice is simply not to mention them, because the public is not interested," he said.

Facebook has also suspended a page belonging to In the Now, another operation funded by the RT designed to attract the younger audience and that Sparks said that Maffick Media was originally created as a holding company for, according to the report.

Like RT and Ruptly, CNN wrote, Maffick Media seems to have offered the public coverage of the United States that was critical of the US government and media, albeit within the limits of what is generally considered mainstream rhetoric. According to CNN, the pages included Soapbox, a news page, the environmental channel Waste-Ed and the historical Backthen channel, which collectively have over 30 million video views in a short period of time.

As noted by CNN, Facebook policies do not require pages to report information about their property, nor does it require publication of disclaimers on content that suggests it has been sponsored by the state. However, the social media giant underwent enormous pressure to suppress alleged foreign interference on its platform, and in 2018 it began to request that some large pages reveal where they were initiated through an "authorization process". Only the Waste-Ed page included any information on where their operators were based, wrote the CNN.

According to corporate documents obtained by CNN, the remaining 49% of Maffick is owned by its managing director Anissa Naouai, a former RT presenter who is said to be close to editorial manager RT Margarita Simonyan.

While Sparks told CNN that Maffick Media is editorially independent of RT, the US intelligence community wrote in a 2017 report that he believes the Kremlin oversees and closely coordinates state-funded funding points to push ideologically narratives friendly. For example, one element of the allegedly Russian attempt to interfere in the 2016 election was promoting the idea that Donald Trump was facing an unjust amount of criticism from the media while relentlessly attacking the democratic Hillary Clinton, relationship.

CNN wrote:

Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow for information defense at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, told CNN that, while Russian state supporters claim to be editorialally independent, "they regularly increase Kremlin narratives, especially those that portray the West negatively. "

Nimmo said that the tone of Maffick's pages is "largely anti-American and anti-corporate." This is surprisingly similar to the production of RT Maffick could be technically independent, but their tone certainly corresponds to the wider Kremlin family. "

Other questions related to Maffick Media include if it should have registered as a foreign agent under the FARA Act, as the RT production company T & R Production was forced to do in 2017. Sandler Reiff The lawyer of Lamb Rosenstein Joshua Ian Rosenstein told CNN that a registration of a foreign agent could be requested, even if it is registered in Germany.

"If they are doing a job in the United States with the goal of achieving Russian interests and are funded by an arm of the Russian government, then the FARA registration could be justified," Rosenstein told CNN.