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Muting Sputnik Arabic: Facebook Control is Something Any Dictator Would Dream Of, Analysts Say

© REUTERS / DADO RUVICA 3D-printed Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta and Facebook logo are placed on laptop keyboard in this illustration taken on November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
A 3D-printed Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta and Facebook logo are placed on laptop keyboard in this illustration taken on November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.01.2022
Facebook's ban of Sputnik Arabic's posting option is beyond the pale, say international observers, outlining how toxic the 17-year-old social media platform has become.
Facebook blocked the posting option for the Sputnik Arabic account on Friday, saying that the measure was taken due to the account's "potential non-compliance" with platform policies. Facebook Concierge Support moderators did not provide a specific reason for the move. The Sputnik Arabic account has never been blocked since it became operational in 2015, although a handful of posts have been marked as "violating community standards".

'Freedom of Speech Essentially Doesn't Exist for Facebook Users'

"By not allowing Sputnik to post on their Arabic page, Facebook is influencing public discourse and are choosing to not publish certain news outlets in the Middle East", says Facebook whistleblower Ryan Hartwig, the author of "Behind the Mask of Facebook: A Whistleblower's Shocking Story of Big Tech Bias and Censorship". "This is another attempt by Facebook to silence ideas it doesn't agree with. We are seeing this because Facebook no longer cares about appearing neutral".

The whistleblower notes that Facebook positions itself as a "gatekeeper of truth" and applies a double standard when dealing with issues in the Middle East.
"The message from Facebook is clear: they have carte blanche to interfere in elections, influence politics, and control the news that Middle Easterners can be exposed to", Hartwig highlights. "This type of unilateral control of news and propaganda is only something dictators have dreamed of, and it's being foisted on sovereign countries in the Middle East".
According to the whistleblower, Facebook's conduct is "extremely dangerous" because the platform is used by a substantial portion of netizens. "Free speech essentially doesn't exist for the 3 billion users of Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp", Hartwig stresses.
"Facebook may have pretended to be open and inclusive, but their operating rationale was never such", says Dr Binoy Kampmark, senior lecturer at the School of Global, Urban, and Social Studies at RMIT University. "The sharing of content is determined algorithmically; appeal of information is generated algorithmically; and now, political considerations enter into whether information should, or should not be shared. Facebook has become a political player, and is acting as such".
According to the academic, Silicon Valley "has abandoned any pretext of free speech, with its companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, becoming the very gatekeepers they should never have been".
He has drawn attention to Facebook previously not only banning a sitting president of the United States, but "cancelling" a whole country and its users from sharing news on its platform. This happened to Australia in February 2021 in response to the proposed News and Media Bargaining Code.
Facebook logo - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.01.2022
Facebook Blocks Posting on Sputnik Arabic Page

'Facebook Has No Decency'

"These acts of censorship by Facebook are completely inappropriate", says Taylor Hudak, journalist and editor with AcTVism Munich. "Facebook is intended to be a social media and networking website, not a curator of news and information. It is not the job of social media giants to censor news agencies, which is an assault on the public's right to know and the public's right to information".

Facebook, according to the journalist, does not have the decency to provide clear reasons for its temporary restriction and "this raises more questions about Facebook's true motives for censoring and restricting the Sputnik Arabic account".
"In fact, this sends a message to Facebook users that it is not at all about 'protecting the community' it is about controlling the narrative and what is acceptable speech", Hudak underscores.
According to the editor, the actions of the Silicon Valley giant "do real world harm" to businesses and journalists who rely on social media to share and promote their work.
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Starting in June 2020, Facebook began labelling Sputnik and a number of other media outlets as "state-controlled media", claiming that "people should know if the news they read is coming from a publication that may be under the influence of a government". Remarkably, this Facebook rule was not applied to other government-funded and -influenced media including the US Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) or the UK BBC media empire.

"The Facebook measure against Sputnik is not only a further demonstration of social media censorship but explodes the lazy presumption that state-linked media are bad and privately-owned media are good", echoes Joseph Oliver Boyd-Barrett, professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University.

So-called privately-owned mainstream media and social networks are neither independent nor objective, according to Boyd-Barrett, who denounced them as "willing pawns of the worst anti-democratic ideological warmongering tendencies". When it comes to Facebook "fact checkers" they, "on the platform's own admission, merely offer opinions, often in the service of propaganda", the professor emphasised.
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Facebook is Tainted by Scandal

Facebook has repeatedly come under criticism from American and foreign policy-makers over disinformation, violations of regional data protection regulations, and repeated failures to quickly ban extremist content. In 2019, then-US Senator Kamala Harris accused Facebook of prioritising its growth over the best interests of its users and their privacy. The platform also came under heavy criticism from right-wing politicians after it consistently took down accounts attributed to conservative netizens and pundits, finally banning then-US President Donald Trump at the end of his single term.

"The platform can no longer present itself as open and inclusive", says Hudak. "That would be false advertising. And this is just the latest problem with Facebook. The platform has had scandals surrounding privacy violations, most notably with Cambridge Analytica, but more recently, Facebook was teaming up with US intelligence agencies to control the narrative during elections".

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In September 2021, The Wall Street Journal kicked off a series of articles exposing Facebook policies, including XCheck, a programme "whitelisting" certain types of users, including celebrities or politicians. The proprietary software tool reportedly protected an estimated 5.8 million users in 2020.
In October 2021, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was named as a defendant in a consumer protection lawsuit stemming from the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal. According to some tech observers, Zuckerberg's decision to change the company's name was caused by the realisation of how toxic the brand had become following a string of scandals and a parade of former employees publicly testifying about the company's wrongdoings.
In 2021, reports emerged warning about a new disturbing trend – a Facebook daily active user decline. The Verge highlighted in October 2021 that, in the US alone, teenage Facebook app users had declined some 13% since 2019 and were projected to drop an additional 45% over the next two years. Young adults between the ages of 20 and 30 were expected to decline by 4% during the same timeframe, according to the media outlet, which remarked that the Silicon Valley giant runs a risk of "losing out on an entire generation".
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