Facebook will start labelling Russian, Chinese and other state-controlled media organisations, and blocking their ads targeting US users.

The world’s biggest social network will apply the label to Russia’s Sputnik, Iran’s Press TV and China’s Xinhua News, according to a partial list Facebook provided. The company will apply the label to about 200 pages at the outset.

Facebook will not label any US-based news organisations for now, as it determined that even US government-run outlets have editorial independence, Facebook head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said.

Facebook, which has acknowledged its failure to stop Russian use of its platforms to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election, has since stepped up its defenses and imposed greater transparency requirements for pages and ads on its platforms.

The company announced plans last year to create a state media label, but is introducing it amid criticism over its hands-off treatment of misleading and racially charged posts by US President Donald Trump.

The new measure comes just months ahead of the November US presidential election.

Under the move, Facebook would not use the label for media outlets affiliated with individual political figures or parties, which Gleicher said could push “boundaries that are very, very slippery.”

“What we want to do here is start with the most critical case,” he said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said social media companies should not selectively create obstacles for media agencies.

“We hope that the relevant social media platform can put aside the ideological bias and hold an open and accepting attitude towards each country’s media role,” he said.

Sputnik urged governments “to regulate Facebook when it tries to impose US-inspired suppression of the freedom of speech.”

Facebook is not the first company to take such action.

YouTube, owned by Alphabet Inc’s Google, in 2018 started identifying video channels that predominantly carry news items and are funded by governments. But critics claim YouTube has failed to label some state news outlets, allowing them to earn ad revenue from videos with misinformation and propaganda.

In a blog post, Facebook said its label would appear on pages globally, as well as on news feed posts within the United States.

Facebook also said it would ban US-targeted ads from state-controlled entities “out of an abundance of caution” ahead of the November presidential election. Elsewhere, the ads will receive a label.

– Reuters