RT Editor in chief Margarita Simonyan went so far as to suggest that the State Department — still run by the Obama administration — was somehow involved in Facebook's decision.
“I'm not surprised,” she told a state news agency in Russia. “If the Department of State could block oxygen to us, they would do it.”
Yet RT also speculated that the block could have been a simple mistake caused by Facebook software wrongly (according to RT) concluding that the Russian outlet violated Facebook's copyright policy when it streamed President Obama's final news conference Wednesday. RT said it had paid for the right to stream footage from the Associated Press, and its social media director, Ivor Crotty, said the block “seems to be part of an algorithmic failure to acknowledge rights acquired by broadcasters.”
Then, on Thursday, Facebook lifted the block — two days early.
“All the features for this page owner have now been restored,” Facebook said in a statement to Variety. “We are looking into the reasons behind the temporary block.”
Wait. So, Facebook doesn't know why Facebook blocked RT?
The reason matters because Facebook's publishing policies are under scrutiny from the right and left. Gizmodo reported last May that some Facebook workers who curated the network's trending news section allowed their own — mostly liberal — political views to influence which stories qualified for promotion in a special box on users' homepages. Conservatives accused Facebook of burying right-leaning content; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg denied a systemic problem but later said employees would undergo political bias training.
After the election, Hillary Clinton supporters decried the proliferation of fake news on Facebook — made-up stories about the pope endorsing Trump and such. Zuckerberg said it is “extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election” but soon announced new steps to halt the spread of false information.
Earlier this month, Facebook hired former CNN anchor Campbell Brown to be its first-ever director for news partnerships, an acknowledgment that the social network needs to build trust among the publishers that use its platform to share content.
“I will be working directly with our partners to help them understand how Facebook can expand the reach of their journalism and contribute value to their businesses,” Brown said at the time. “That also means making sure there is ongoing feedback from publishers as Facebook develops new products and tools for news organizations.”
As Facebook figures out how to handle its position as a major news distributor, it would be nice to know whether it intentionally targeted RT or simply had a glitch in its algorithm.