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News Organizations Challenge Facebook Over 'Dangerous' Effort to Categorize Political Journalism as Propaganda

"We cannot and will not engage in any process that conflates legitimate newsgathering with politics or advocacy."

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Facebook's new advertising disclosure rules for news organizations provoked outcry this week as seven media groups protested against the tech giant's attempt to blur the lines between news and propaganda and to regulate the sharing and spread of political and election-related news on their platform.

"We see your policy as another step toward furthering a false and dangerous narrative that blurs the lines between real reporting from the professional media and propaganda," wrote the groups, which represent thousands of worldwide publications and journalists, in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "Marketing our products, or subscriptions to our products, is not separate from our journalism or from press freedom....We cannot and will not engage in any process that conflates legitimate newsgathering with politics or advocacy."

Facebook recently unveiled a plan to treat any organization that purchases ads to promote its own content, as it would a candidate or campaign that was advertising a political stance or a run for public office. Media companies that seek to advertise their journalistic work on Facebook would have to include "paid for by" disclosures in their ads and register in Facebook's searchable political ad database.

Groups that spoke out about the new rules on Monday were the American Society of News Editors, the European Publishers Council, Digital Content Next, the Association of Magazine Media, the News Media Alliance, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

"We are concerned with Facebook's inclusion of news content in its new policies to label all political and issue-based advertising, and to create a searchable archive for all such content," wrote the organizations.

In their letter, the groups suggested that news organizations with income from advertising or subscriptions, ones which operate under nonprofit status, and ones that are included in professional news associations should be exempt from the new disclosure rules.

Noting that independent news outlets should also be able to advertise their content on Facebook, the groups wrote, "A process could also be formed to enable publishers that are not members of any of the listed organizations to be exempted from the ad archive."

In addition to furthering troubling narratives about journalism as a politicized endeavor, Facebook's new restrictions have blocked independent outlets and journalists from advertising their work on the platform at all. While the new rules were ostensibly developed to combat ad purchases like the ones made by Russian troll farms during the 2016 presidential campaign—like one which bought $100,000 in ads from Facebook during the election—independent journalists have already felt the effects.

that were made by Russian agents during the 2016 presidential campaign—when a troll farm bought $100,000 in ads from Facebook—independent journalists have already felt the effects.

Last week the Huffington Post reported that Sean Guillory, a student and podcaster based in Pittsburgh, was blocked from advertising a podcast episode about Russian press reports on President Donald Trump, when Facebook deemed the content "political."

"My main problem is that they are using their monopoly power to define what is political discourse," Guillory told the Huffington Post.

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