The Russian connection? Banned Facebook pages were featured on 2016 ‘blacklist’

The Russian connection? Banned Facebook pages were featured on 2016 ‘blacklist’
A host of alternative news pages banned by Facebook last week were first featured on the PropOrNot blacklist in 2016 – a list of “Russian propaganda” sites that was compiled with little evidence and called “McCarthyite.”

Facebook banned 800 alternative media pages last week, ranging from left-leaning organizations like The Anti-Media to flag-waving opinion sites like Right Wing News and Nation in Distress. Others include those belonging to police brutality watchdog groups Filming Cops and Policing the Police. Twitter followed suit and banned many accounts associated with the same groups.

The social media giant said the pages were banned for “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” and, disturbingly, the company said in a blog post that it is working hard to root out pages, groups, and accounts “created to stir up political debate,” ahead of next month’s midterm elections in the US.

However, in deciding which pages to ban, it seems that Facebook drew some inspiration from a ‘blacklist’ released after the US presidential election in 2016, when Russian hysteria was beginning to take off.

The ‘PropOrNot’ list was published anonymously in November 2016, and claimed to offer a comprehensive rundown of “Sites That Reliably Echo Russian Propaganda.” PropOrNot’s anonymous team did not explain its methods, or what criteria made a site ‘Russian propaganda’, but the Washington Post still ran a glowing feature on the site, which the paper said opposed “Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery.”

PropOrNot’s list was described by journalist Glenn Greenwald as a “McCarthyite blacklist” compiled by “anonymous cowards.” Harper’s editor Andrew Cockburn called the Washington Post’s article on it “a sorry piece of trash,” while Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi called it “shameful and disgusting.”

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All three journalists slammed the Washington Post for not properly investigating PropOrNot’s “shady” fact-checking process, and concluded that all the sites on the list really had in common was vague opposition to centrist, Hillary Clinton-style foreign policy.

Many of the pages banned last Thursday were named on PropOrNot’s list. While Facebook has not said whether it drew inspiration from PropOrNot, its sweeping ban was cheered by Russophobic list-lovers, who thanked Facebook and Twitter “for refusing to let Putin’s brutally corrupt mafia-fascist dictatorship use their platforms.”

While PropOrNot has been widely discredited, Facebook has teamed up with another third-party fact-checker of dubious motive. The Digital Forensics Lab is an offshoot of NATO-funded think tank The Atlantic Council, and has pledged to be Facebook’s “eyes and ears” in the fight against disinformation (read: alternative viewpoints).

In announcing the partnership in May, the DFL said it would strive to “expose and explain falsehood online,” and crack down on ‘Russian bots’ manipulating discussion. In reality, the crackdown has focused on left-leaning and alternative news sites, and has been called part of “a wider war on dissident narratives in online media” by journalist Max Blumenthal.

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