Facebook apologized Friday to Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Russia’s government-run RT and Sputnik news networks, after wrongly flagging one of Simonyan’s posts as a violation of the platform’s standards and suspending her account.
“If during the review process we discover we made a mistake, we restore the removed content when possible and apologize,” Facebook said in a statement. “As happened in this case.”
Funded and controlled by the Kremlin, Sputnik and RT have had a fraught relationship with social media companies since a declassified 2017 U.S. intelligence assessment named them as players in Vladimir Putin’s election-interference campaign. The outlets represent the attributed portion of Russia’s global propaganda effort and frequently push disinformation helpful to the Kremlin.
Facebook appeared to escalate tensions Thursday when it hit Simonyan’s personal account with a three-day suspension over the content of one of her posts—the company won’t say which post. The move appeared to be part of a broad crackdown. The same day Facebook unveiled a new “preamble” to its lengthy rule book setting out what you can and can’t do on the platform and took action against a number of other accounts, including a chatbot operated for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sputnik and RT spent much of Thursday blasting Facebook and touting their leader’s suspension as an example of Western technology companies holding unchecked and arbitrary censorship power over Russian social media users. “We are living in a country where American censorship is practiced freely and with no barriers,” Simonyan said in one story on Sputnik.
This time, Sputnik wasn’t just making it up. Facebook said Friday that it has now restored Simonyan’s account.