Facebook has banned several pages belonging to such viral media outlets as In the Now because they are affiliates of the Russian-funded network RT – even though these media outlets violated none of the social network’s rules.
Yet The Electronic Intifada can exclusively reveal that Facebook has given a nod of approval to a network of secretive and deceptive pages set up by The Israel Project, a lobby group that collaborates with the Israeli government and with Israel’s military establishment to influence public opinion against Palestinians.
Last week, Facebook took down several pages run by Maffick Media. This came after CNN ran a report that the majority stakeholder of the company “is Ruptly, a subsidiary of RT, which is funded by the Russian government.”
Often featuring reporter Rania Khalek, one of those outlets, In The Now, creates viral videos on current affairs, including this recent one debunking US claims used to justify the Trump administration’s regime change effort in Venezuela:
Khalek is a former editor and writer for The Electronic Intifada.
As Kevin Gosztola reported for Shadowproof, CNN’s hit piece revealed no violations of Facebook policies by Maffick Media’s pages.
However CNN drew on Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab as a supposed expert to claim that In The Now journalists “routinely boost Kremlin narratives, especially those which portray the West negatively.”
A pro-war think tank, The Atlantic Council boasts funders including NATO, the governments of the United States, United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates, and a slew of arms companies.
Its supposed digital sleuth Nimmo has such a poor track record that he has falsely identified living individuals, including a Ukrainian concert pianist and a British senior citizen, as “Russian bots.”
CNN also acknowledged that the relationship between Maffick Media and RT was brought to its attention by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a cut-out of the US and NATO-financed German Marshall Fund.
The Alliance for Securing Democracy’s “advisory council” is a who’s who of US government figures and right-wing ideologues including former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, neoconservative war hawk Bill Kristol, former CIA acting director Michael Morell, Hillary Clinton presidential campaign chair John Podesta and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis.
CNN reporters claimed that their network’s “investigation” uncovered that “Russia is paying to produce viral videos aimed at Americans” – even though the fact that In The Now has Russian funding was not a secret and already widely known.
CNN even misquoted Maffick Media chief operating officer J. Ray Sparks to make it seem like he had acknowledged duplicitous behavior by his company to conceal its Russian funding, when he was merely noting that it was “standard industry practice” among all media outlets not to include extensive disclosures about their ownership structures.
CNN was forced to issue a correction after Gosztola revealed this deception.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald, a campaigner against censorship, excoriated CNN as “obsessed with, and steadfastly devoted to, pressuring social media companies to censor from the internet political content critical of the US government.”
Greenwald also pointed out that CNN’s owner, “AT&T, has very close relationships with the US security state, especially its spying.”
The network also “employs many ex-agents” and “never disclose the interests of their weapons advertisers in the wars they promote,” Greenwald added. “But they demand Facebook censors others.”
Secret Israeli propaganda
In stark contrast to Facebook’s swift removal of pages belonging to media outlets that challenge US government policies, the social network has taken no action against a secret influence campaign run by The Israel Project, a major lobby group.
The effort to manipulate unsuspecting Facebook users was revealed in The Lobby – USA, an undercover Al Jazeera documentary that was never broadcast by the network due to censorship by Qatar following pressure from pro-Israel organizations.
But The Electronic Intifada obtained a leaked copy of the film and published it in full in November.
The Israel Project created a network of seemingly innocuous pages, including Cup of Jane – which has more than half a million followers – Soul Mama, History Bites, We Have Only One Earth and This Explains That.
These pages mostly share funny or inspirational material, often with a progressive or feminist tilt, mostly with no connection to Israel.
But The Israel Project regularly drops pro-Israel material into the stream of content – while concealing entirely or failing to explicitly acknowledge that the pages are run by a group that works to promote Israel and its government’s policies.
In the leaked film, Jordan Schachtel, who worked for The Israel Project at the time, tells the undercover Al Jazeera reporter about the logic and extent of the covert Facebook operation:
“We’re putting together a lot of pro-Israel media through various social media channels that aren’t The Israel Project’s channels,” Schachtel tells the undercover reporter. “So we have a lot of side projects that we are trying to influence the public debate with.”
“That’s why it’s a secretive thing,” Schachtel adds. “Because we don’t want people to know that these side projects are associated with The Israel Project.”
The reporter asks if the idea of “all the rest of the non-Israel stuff is to allow the Israel stuff to pass better.”
“It’s just that we want to like blend in everything,” Schachtel explains.
David Hazony, the managing director of The Israel Project, is also heard telling Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter: “There are also things that we do that are completely off the radar. We work together with a lot of other organizations.”
“We produce content that they then publish with their own name on it,” Hazony adds.
In September, soon after it revealed The Israel Project-run pages, The Electronic Intifada asked Facebook if the secret influence campaign violated any of Facebook’s policies – particularly in light of the furore over the alleged, though unsubstantiated or false, charges of a massive Russia-backed effort to use social media to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
But until now, The Electronic Intifada did not publish Facebook’s response: A spokesperson for Facebook wrote that the company looked at the pages covertly run by The Israel Project and concluded that they “don’t violate any of Facebook’s pages policies.”
This is hardly surprising given that it was already known that Facebook partners with the Israeli and US governments to delete accounts that those governments do not like.
But it is more clear proof that Facebook isn’t concerned about protecting users from unwitting exposure to government propaganda.
Rather, it is colluding with the US and allied governments, and government-aligned corporate media like CNN, to suppress reportage and opinion that challenge the United States and its client regimes like Israel.
On Wednesday, Anissa Naoaui, the CEO of Maffick Media, tweeted that Facebook had been in touch with her company.
“Maffick pages will be restored if we update our about section,” Naoaui wrote, citing a new Facebook policy. She said she wished her company “had just been contacted instead of blocked.”
“Let’s hope this applies to ALL pages, not just ones that speak up and stand out,” Naoaui added.
This article has been updated.