In a September 2018 article published by FAIR, Allan Macleod detailed how media conglomerate Facebook plans to join forces with “two propaganda organizations founded and funded by the US government: The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI),” allegedly in an effort to combat “fake news.”
The NDI and the IRI were both established under an umbrella organization called the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a nonprofit created by the US Congress in 1983 to influence politics and elections in developing countries. Facebook’s collaboration with these organizations is especially concerning because both organizations have “aggressively pursued regime change against leftist governments overseas.” In the 1980s, the NDI worked to destabilize the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and, more recently, the IRI supported the attempted 2002 coup d’état against Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chavez.
This is not the first time Facebook has partnered with government or quasi-government agencies to vet user-posted content. On May 17, 2018, Facebook announced that it would join forces with the Atlantic Council to fight against “fake news.” The Atlantic Council is a Washington, DC-based think tank funded by the US military (Navy, Army and Air Force). It also receives monetary support from NATO and several large oil companies. Its conservative-leaning board of directors includes former CIA directors, retired US generals, and hawkish former state department officials like Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice. The Council claims that its goal is “to bring us closer together” instead of “driving us further apart” and its partnership with Facebook was ostensibly motivated by a desire to “monitor for misinformation and foreign interference.” Yet, as FAIR’s Adam Johnson wrote in May 2018, it is troubling that Facebook would rely on advice from a group that has “advocated on the behalf of one of its previous funders, Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,” and which presented former President George W. Bush—who was directly responsible for “the illegal invasion of Iraq that killed between 500,000 and a million people”—a Distinguished International Leadership award.
In the name of fighting the scourge of “fake news” Facebook in the past year changed its algorithms in ways that have dramatically reduced traffic to progressive websites like Common Dreams. Without formal warning, it shutdown leftwing, Venezuela-linked Facebook pages such as TeleSur English and Venezuelanalysis (although both were reinstituted after protests about their removal).
More recently, Facebook has been “anxious to better curate what Brazilians saw on their feeds in the run-up to their presidential elections.” Fifty-two percent of Brazilians get their news from Facebook, Macleod reported in September 2018. The company’s new partnerships with the Atlantic Council and the two NED propaganda outfits gives the US government—which has a long history of meddling in Brazilian politics—yet another means of exerting influence over Brazil’s democracy.
There has been very little corporate news coverage of Facebook’s partnerships with US government propaganda organizations. As of January 31, 2019, one of the only reports was a Reuters report that MacLeod referenced in his piece. That article briefly discussed the history of the IRI and the NDI but made no mention of the blackout of Telesur English and Venezuelanalysis or of the way Facebook’s new algorithms have reduced traffic to leftist and progressive news sites.
Alan MacLeod, “That Facebook Will Turn to Censoring the Left Isn’t a Worry-It’s a Reality,” FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), November 24, 2018, fair.org/home/that-facebook-will-turn-to-censoring-the-left-isnt-a-worry-its-a-reality/.
Alan MacLeod, “Facebook’s New Propaganda Partners,” FAIR, September 25, 2018, fair.org/home/facebooks-new-propaganda-partners/.
Adam Johnson, “Media Ignore Government Influence on Facebook’s Plan to Fight Government Influence,” FAIR, May 21, 2018, fair.org/home/media-ignore-government-influence-on-facebooks-plan-to-fight-government-influence/.
Student Researcher: Cem Ismail Addemir (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)