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News site blocked; others threatened

Staff writers

What may be a vendetta against legitimate news organizations claimed a new victim last week.

Marion County Record was alerted beginning Thursday morning that all links to Kansas Reflector articles regarding an Aug. 11 raid on the Record newsroom had been removed by Facebook.

The social media platform notified users that the articles contained “dangerous misinformation,” “go against community standards,” or pose a “cybersecurity risk.”

Links to all other Reflector articles — not just those about the Record — also were removed.

At the same time, the Record began receiving multiple notices, supposedly from Facebook employees, that the Record’s Facebook page faced imminent removal for “copyright infringement.”

Reflector opinion editor Clay Wirestone wrote in an article that he learned about the deletions from users who had posted links to stories about the Record. On further investigation — and with knowledge that other stories not about the Record also had been removed — another theory began to emerge.

Just before the incident happened, the Reflector had posted a link to an article by Dave Kendall that was critical of Meta, the company that owns Facebook.

“Sometime between 8:20 and 8:50 a.m. Thursday, Facebook removed every post linking to Kansas Reflector’s website,” the Reflector wrote. “This move not only affected Kansas Reflector’s Facebook page, where we link to nearly every story we publish, but the pages of everyone who has ever shared a story from us.”

The timing could not be overlooked.

“When we attempted to share the column on Facebook this morning — shortly after 8 a.m. — the link was summarily rejected,” the Reflector reported. “After a second attempt at posting, we instead simply linked to our website with advice to find the story there. Within the next half-hour, every post linking to our site was gone.”

Thursday afternoon, Meta spokesman Andy Stone apologized not on Facebook but in a tweet on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Stone’s apology came Thursday afternoon, Wirestone, who manages the Reflector’s Facebook page, said it soon became clear the problem was not resolved.

“What became very clear as we went into Friday morning was that everything was not fixed,” Wirestone said. “It still wouldn’t let us post (Kendall’s) column.”

Wirestone tried to post links to other websites that had posted links to Kendall’s column.

“That’s when they got nuked,” he said.

Those sites included News From The States and The Handbasket, written by independent journalist Marisa Kabas.

“We have confirmed that it happened to them, but there may have been others,” Wirestone said. “Within three hours, they were back up.”

That’s when Stone picked up the phone and called editor-in-chief Sherman Smith to say the situation had nothing to do with the content of Kendall’s article and was a technical error.

Around 3:30 p.m. Friday, people could post links to the opinion story.

“I think the issues for most of our users did resolve at that point,” Wirestone said. “People who had them removed got them back. People were able to post links again.”

Still, Wirestone has more than one concern about the series of events.

“Personally, I think it’s unlikely that this happened because of the contents of a single column —but we don’t know because they won’t tell us,” he said. “It’s easy, with a situation like this, for people to draw bad conclusions.”

All major Meta products where the Reflector posts and all places where links to the Reflector were posted were affected.

“It is hard to give Facebook the benefit the benefit of the doubt on anything,” Wirestone said.

He knows mistakes happen.

“That being said, I think there has to be some level of responsibility for mistakes that happen,” he said. “I think we’ve tried to be as open about this on our side as we can be.”

The problem disrupted efforts by the Reflector staff to cover the end of Kansas’ legislative session.

Wirestone is concerned that social media users were told that the Reflector site was a cybersecurity risk.

“We were not hacked,” he said.

He also is concerned that other news organizations were affected.

“There’s been a chilling effect to other news organization that are wondering if they can post things on Facebook, because they are afraid what might happen,” Wirestone said. “It makes journalists think twice about being aggressive and sharing their work.”

Kabas called the incidents censorship.

“It’s disturbing that Meta is openly trying to censor the press,” Kabas said. “It’s also astonishing that a tech behemoth can’t handle a bit of criticism — especially around an issue as important as climate change. Fortunately, we have many other levers of communication and they won’t be able to keep this quiet. I’m proud to stand with the Kansas Reflector and other nonprofit and independent news outlets as we fight to take up space and make our voices heard.”

The editorial boards of the Kansas City Star and the Wichita Eagle wrote about the situation.

“If you care about responsible, verifiable news, we suggest that you directly visit the websites of the news organizations you value,” the Eagle editorial board wrote. “Cut out the social media middleman. And if those sources you like sell subscriptions, buy one. And, we won’t be sharing this editorial on our own Facebook page. Just to be safe.”

Last modified April 11, 2024

 

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