NEWS published on 23 Jan 2023

Is big tech tampering with media content!?

On 20 January, the EBU released a video that explains how big tech is tampering with public service media content and services. Global online platforms are moderating editorial content and media services based on their own terms and conditions. On fully legal content from public service media, big tech is:

  • removing posts
  • blocking accounts
  • setting limitations on access to content and services

In the video above, you will learn about how, in March 2021, the Belgian French-speaking broadcaster RTBF posted a current affairs video on Facebook. The video reported on police violence with a possible racist motive. Facebook removed the video and only re-instated it upon appeals from RTBF. Read more on what happened. In February of 2021, German regional public broadcaster, WDR, had a similar incident on Facebook and Instagram.  

In another example of tampering, in June 2019, the Instagram account of Swedish Radio’s youth-oriented satirical show “Think Tank” (Tankesmedjan) was removed from Instagram without warning. Apart from a standardized alert that one of their posts had broken Instagram’s rules, the production team were given no explanation for the removal. Swedish Radio contacted Facebook in Sweden, who passed the message on to the international moderating team. Two weeks later the account was reinstated.

On several occasions, the Norwegian Broadcasting Cooperation, NRK, has experienced that the NRK logos are removed from their podcast episode thumbnail images in Apple Podcasts. NRK uploads each programme with a picture that includes the NRK logo. Apple did not remove the whole picture but removed the NRK logo from it, making it difficult for users to identify that the podcast programmes are produced and published by NRK.

The Danish Broadcasting Corporation, DR, encountered issues with Google over the removal and blocking of updates for the Ramasjang app, which features children’s content. In August 2020, after ongoing differences, Google removed the app entirely, without providing DR with further information or a reason for their decision. After negotiations, where it was discovered that Google was concerned about one scene in the app where the main character is seen with a licorice pipe in his mouth, there was an intense public debate about the need to guarantee editorial independence to content providers on online platforms, the app was reinstated in the original form by Google, without further information on change of stance.

In March 2021, YouTube removed two videos produced by the Swiss broadcaster, RTS, for its programme Géopolitis. One video dealt with the Covid-19 situation in China. The other reported on police repression in Russia. One video was never restored, while the second was given an 18+ rating. Read more on the removals.

Although in each case the content was eventually restored, the public service editors and journalists lost valuable time and energy chasing the platforms for a justification and a re-instatement. Platforms should not be adding an additional layer of moderation on fully legal media content.