Algorithms — not the CIA — likely took down RT's Facebook account

January 19, 2017, 2:45pm

The Russia-backed news agency RT made the startling announcement Thursday that Facebook had blocked the publication from sharing its articles on the platform until after the U.S. presidential inauguration Friday. In an earlier version of an article disclosing the news, RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan hinted that the U.S. government was behind the block.

But RT didn’t offer any evidence, and its head of social media said in the same piece Facebook’s move was probably an “algorithmic failure” related to digital rights issues. RT later added an update asserting that was the case. A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to VICE News that “all the features for this page owner have now been restored. We are looking into the reasons behind the temporary block.”

Why Simonyan might have initially pointed a finger at the State Department (She said in an interview that she was “not surprised.”) likely has to do with RT’s Russian sponsors’s role in the hacking scandal that has roiled the U.S. over the last few months. RT, in particular, has been a focus of the intelligence community; in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence report from earlier this month, RT was the subject of intense scrutiny.

According to RT, the incident that precipitated Facebook’s block was RT’s use of an Associated Press video stream of President Obama’s final press conference. RT said it pays AP for rights to use those streams, and its social media chief Ivor Crotty added that “while Facebook is a powerful distributor of live streams, it is struggling with the rights ramifications.”

Facebook, like YouTube and other digital services that host video, use algorithm-based programs to monitor and enforce copyright violations, in addition to individual user reports. YouTube’s version, which has been around for a few years, is called Content ID, and Facebook’s version, launched last April, is named “Rights Manager.”

Longtime critics of software like Content ID and Rights Manager note that the programs have a bad tendency to yank down content that’s actually copyright kosher, such as videos of Trump rallies that capture background music and even media for which companies have acquired streaming rights.