Censorship of alternative media is becoming more widespread in the COVID19 era. This article documents the case of SouthFront.
Where do you find daily news, videos, analysis and maps about the conflict in Syria? Detailed reports about the conflicts in Libya, Yemen and Venezuela? News about the rise of ISIS in Mozambique? Original analysis of events in the US and Russia? SouthFront is the place.
SouthFront is unique and influential, reaching a global audience of hundreds of thousands. They have opinion articles but their reports and videos are informational and factual. Their website says,
"SouthFront focuses on issues of international relations, armed conflicts and crises.... We try to dig out the truth on issues which are barely covered by the states concerned and the mainstream media."
Censorship by Facebook and YouTube
A major disinformation and censorship drive against SouthFront was recently launched. On April 30 the SouthFront Facebook account with about 100,000 subscribers was deleted without warning or notice.
On May 1, SouthFront's main YouTube account with over 150 thousand subscribers was terminated. The English language channel had 1,900 uploaded videos with 60 million views over the past 5 years.
While the SouthFront website continues as before, the above actions remove important distribution channels which SouthFront has painstakingly built up.
The censorship has been accompanied by a parallel disinformation campaign promoted by corporate, governmental and establishment "think tank" organizations. This is in the context where the US State Department's Global Engagement Center (GEC) has a direct liaison with Silicon Valley companies and teams focused on "countering the propaganda" from Russia, China and Iran with a current budget of $60 million per year.
In a March 2020 hearing, Senator Chris Murphy (D - Conn) lobbied for increased funding and more censorship. He said, "It's hard to chase one lie after another. You have to actually go after the source and expose the source as illegitimate or untrustworthy, is that right?" Lea Gabrielle, head of GEC, responded "That's correct."
When the Senator says "it's hard to chase one lie after another", he is acknowledging that it's often hard to show that it's a lie. Even more so when it is not a lie. It is much easier for the authorities to simply say the source is untrustworthy- or better yet to eliminate them - as they have tried to do with SouthFront.
False Accusations by Facebook
The elimination of SouthFront's Facebook account was based on a Facebook sponsored investigation titled "April 2020 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report". The 28 page report says, "We're constantly working to find and stop coordinated campaigns that seek to manipulate public debate across our platforms....We view influence operations as coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation.... This month we removed eight networks of accounts, Pages and Groups..... Our investigation linked this activity to ... two media organizations in Crimea - News Front and SouthFront. We found this network as part of our internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior."
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