In a bizarre campaign to out Russian state-backed media, CNN, working with two pro-US/NATO political think tanks, called Facebook’s attention to video pages run by a European outlet, Maffick Media, in an effort to have them de-platformed due to connections with the Russian government. Even though there were no specific rule violations cited, or reports challenged for inaccuracy, Facebook suspended Maffick-related pages after CNN inquired about what the social media company was doing to label possible misinformation coming from state media sources, especially Russian ones.
In an article written for Shadowproof, Kevin Gosztola—who co-hosts a podcast with Rania Khalek, a contributor to one of Maffick Media’s pages—wrote that CNN may have been giving Facebook a pretext to shut the pages down for a story CNN had been working on about Russian-funded media that undermine US interests. Working with tips from establishment think tanks like the German Marshall Fund and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Laboratory, CNN began focusing on Maffick Media and its connections to the Russian government. (Note: The Atlantic Council serves as one of Facebook’s own fact checkers.) According to Khalek, CNN came looking for a story and after Maffick gave them information about their business model and editorial practices, CNN found Maffick’s narrative lacking in substance and then asked Facebook about its stance on labeling foreign-funded media.
CNN also worked with Ben Nimmo from the Atlantic Council, which is funded by NATO, Gulf monarchies, and defense contractors (as well as Facebook). The German Marshall Fund had identified Maffick as a potential foreign news outlet due to its connection with the Russian media organization RT TV (formerly Russia Today). The content produced under Maffick’s banner was often critical of US foreign and domestic policies. The Atlantic Council and the German Marshall Fund registered problems with Maffick Media, highlighting its connections to Russia. However, once Maffick openly gave that information to CNN, CNN went to Facebook, which quickly removed the pages in question in what appears to have been an act of political censorship.
In an interview with MintPress News, Khalek argued this very point in defense of her work as an America journalist working abroad. After not breaking any known rules Facebook had at the time, Maffick’s pages were taken down. Khalek argued that, because this seems to have been at the behest of a “government funded outfit,” this was a case of government censorship. Maffick Media claimed they were targeted because they were funded by a company with ties to the Russian government, even though there was no requirement for other media outlets that might have ties to other governments, and that they were being held to a different standard from other outlets such as the BBC and CBC (because of their Russian affiliation). After lobbying Facebook for reinstatement, Maffick Media had its pages restored with a disclosure about its funding on the pages in question.
Outside of MintPress News and Shadowproof, there has been no coverage of this story on any of the corporate outlets. Except for CNN, the story of either the initial takedown or multiple connecting threads between CNN, Facebook, and organizations such as the German Marshall Fund and Atlantic Council has received zero corporate media coverage.
Kevin Gosztola, “How CNN Led Facebook To Censor Pages Of Russia-backed Video Company and Manufactured News Story,” Shadowproof, February 16, 2019, https://shadowproof.com/2019/02/16/cnn-manufactured-story-about-russia-video-company-facebook-censorship/.
Alexander Rubinstein, “How a Small Team of Journalists Overcame Neocon-Cheered Facebook Censorship,” MintPress News, March 1, 2019, https://www.mintpressnews.com/how-a-small-team-of-journalists-overcame-neocon-cheered-facebook-censorship/255789/.
Student Researcher(s): Troy Patton (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Researcher(s): Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)