BUSINESS + ECONOMY

Meta is accused of censoring a non-profit newspaper and an independent journalist who criticized the company

Apr 6, 2024, 6:00 AM

A Meta spokesperson apologized April 5 for a "security error" that mistakenly blocked links that co...

A Meta spokesperson apologized April 5 for a "security error" that mistakenly blocked links that contained content critical of the company. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images/File via CNN Newsource)

(Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images/File via CNN Newsource)

Originally Published: 05 APR 24 18:27 ET
Updated: 05 APR 24 19:24 ET

New York (CNN) — Meta blocked a newspaper’s critical report about it on Facebook and its other social sites for hours, sparking a backlash that intensified after the company appeared to subsequently block links to the website of an independent journalist who republished the report.

The controversy began Thursday morning when users noticed that all links to the non-profit newspaper the Kansas Reflector had been flagged as a cybersecurity threat and their posts were removed. About seven hours later, the paper said, most of its links had been restored, save for one — a column that had criticized Facebook and accused it of suppressing posts related to climate change.

Meta apologized to the Reflector and its readers on Thursday for what the company’s communications chief, Andy Stone, called a “an error that had nothing to do with the Reflector’s recent criticism of Meta.”

But on Friday, users who attempted to share the column on Facebook, Instagram or Threads, were shown a warning that it violated community guidelines. That seemed suspicious to Marisa Kabas, an independent journalist in New York, who asked the Reflector for permission to publish the text of the column on her own website, the Handbasket.

“I thought it would be a cool experiment,” Kabas told CNN on Friday. Around 1pm ET, she published the story on her own site, “in an attempt to sidestep Meta’s censorship,” she wrote in a preface to the column.

She then shared her post on Threads. “A couple minutes later, I got an alert that it had been flagged and taken down for malicious content,” Kabas told CNN.

Kabas’s post was banned from all Meta platforms for several hours Friday. And for about two hours, she said, all of the links to her site were blocked. Her links were all restored by late afternoon Friday, she said.

In a Threads post on Friday, Stone said the blocked links were “due to a security error” that also mistakenly blocked links to The Handbasket and the nonprofit news aggregator site News From The States.

“The incorrectly applied blocks have now been lifted,” he wrote. “This is undoubtedly frustrating and we sincerely apologize to all who have been impacted.”

Stone didn’t immediately reply to CNN’s request for details about the security concern.

“Sounds like a bug with our share scraper or possibly that the domain is getting caught up in a safety measure by mistake,” said Instagram head Adam Mosseri in a threads post Friday. “We certainly don’t block links to articles that are critical about us … I’ll talk to the team now though and chase down the bug so we can get it fixed ASAP.”

The editor-in-chief of the Kansas Reflector, Sherman Smith, wrote on Friday that Stone “wouldn’t elaborate on how the mistake happened and said there would be no further explanation.”

Kabas said the damage had already been done because the articles had already been flagged as malicious. “That’s a big problem, because that undermines our trust,” she said.

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Meta is accused of censoring a non-profit newspaper and an independent journalist who criticized the company