• Last modified 104 days ago (April 11, 2024)


Facebook blocks access to key news site, threatens others, then unblocks

Staff writers

What appears to possibly be a vendetta against legitimate news organizations claimed its first victim Thursday.

The 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.”

Asked about the situation, Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said: “This is happening to newspapers across the state”

The Reflector stated that it first learned about the deletions from users who had posted links to stories about the Record.

On further — and with knowledge that stories not about the Record also had been removed — another theory began to emerge.

Just before the incident happened, the Reflector had posted an article critical of 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 noted in a Facebook post. “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.”

“When we attempted to share the column on Facebook this morning — shortly after 8 a.m. — the link was summarily rejected. 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. For reference, we have published more than 6,000 news stories, briefs, and opinion columns since Kansas Reflector’s founding in 2020. Scores of readers also alerted us that their posts linking to our stories had been removed.”

Seven and a half hours after the posts were removed, a public spokesman issued a statement denying the incident was related to the Reflector’s Thursday post about Facebook.

“This was an error that had nothing to do with the Reflector’s recent criticism of Meta,” spokesman Andy Stone said. “It has since been reversed and we apologize to the Reflector and its readers for the mistake.”

The Reflector issued a statement Thursday that reassured people their website had not been hacked and didn’t pose a cybersecurity threat.

“You and your devices are safe while reading our stories and sharing them,” the Reflector posted. “Facebook won’t let you do so at present, but other, non-Meta-owned platforms should be fine.”

Reflector editors said they were trying to find out what happened but suggested it might be related to an article the Reflector posted Thursday morning

“Many have wondered if one story or another was responsible, highlighting our coverage of the Marion newspaper raid or state government,” the Reflector wrote. “Coincidentally, the removals happened the same day we published a column from Dave Kendall that is critical of Facebook’s decision to reject certain types of advertising: ‘When Facebook fails, local media matters even more for our planet’s future.’

Reflector editor-in-chief Sherman Smith called it “ironic” that he was at the University of Kansas listening to the Federal Bureau of Investigation talk about cybersecurity threats when Facebook decided the Reflector was one.

The Reflector said it was following up with Meta, but the “appeals processes can be lengthy and complex to navigate.”

“If you’re a Facebook user who has had a link to the Reflector removed and you’re able to appeal, please do so,” the Reflector posted.

Keith Turrill notified the Record that a link to a raid article had been removed from his page.

“Facebook just did a take down on me because last year I posted a link to a Kansas Reflector article about the first police lawsuit last August,” Keith Turrill wrote. “My recollection is that I simply posted the link straight-up without any additional comment.”

“Keith Turrill, same here,” Keith Morlewski responded.

The Record responded:

“Someone on Facebook also has been threatening to take down our page — in our case for alleged copyright infringement. We’ve been getting multiple messages about this but no one has acted upon them yet.”

Other Facebook users also informed the Record of messages that had been removed.

“I just got a notification from Facebook informing me that several posts I shared way back in August were removed — today,” Sarah Rowse Rathgeber posted. “These were all articles from the Kansas Reflector concerning the Marion County Record raid. Hmmmmmmm. Methinks Facebook got strong-armed. Nothing suspicious here, is there?”

Jeff Kortsch posted: 🤔

“In August 2023, when the story about the raid by police on a Kansas newspaper and the home of the owners of the newspaper broke, I posted a link to an article on the website of the Kansas Reflector.

“Today I received notice from Facebook that the content was removed because, ‘It looks like you tried to gather sensitive information, or shared malicious software.’

“How sharing a link to an article fits in either of those categories I don’t know so I challenged the removal. It seems odd that the same week a lawsuit has been filed against the Marion, Kansas, police my post about that incident got removed.”

Joe Sayre said in an email to the Record:

“Last year I posted this article on Facebook. Today I received notice that it is dangerous misinformation. TikTok is not the problem. FB is openly hostile to free speech.”

Last modified April 11, 2024