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Meta Pushes Back Against Kazakh Claims of ‘Exclusive’ Access to Facebook’s Content Reporting System

“This process is the same in Kazakhstan as it is for other countries around the world,” a Meta spokesman told Reuters.

Meta Pushes Back Against Kazakh Claims of ‘Exclusive’ Access to Facebook’s Content Reporting System

Facebook unveiled their new Meta sign at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, California, Thursday, October 28, 2021.

Credit: AP Photo/Tony Avelar

A day after Kazakh authorities put out a “joint statement” claiming that the government had reached an agreement with Facebook for “direct and exclusive access to Facebook’s ‘Content Reporting System’ (CRS),” the social media giant’s newly renamed parent company Meta denied Nur-Sultan’s characterization.

In an email to Reuters, Meta spokesperson Ben McConaghy said, “We follow a consistent global process to assess individual requests – independent from any government – in line with Facebook’s policies, local laws and international human rights standards.” He said that the company had a “dedicated online channel” for all governments to report content.

“This process is the same in Kazakhstan as it is for other countries around the world.”

Meta’s statement directly contradicts what Kazakh authorities had labeled a “joint statement” specifying “direct and exclusive access” to the Facebook CRS. McConaghy told Reuters, “The Kazakh government released their own statement based on discussions we’ve had with them about our global process for requests from governments to restrict content that violates local law.”

As RFE/RL reported, on November 2, following McConaghy’s statements, Kazakh Minister of Information and Social Development Aida Balaeva said that the “joint statement” was coordinated with Meta’s Hong Kong office. In a Facebook posted, Balaeva said, “The Ministry of Information and Social Development held talks with Meta’s office in Hong Kong that covers China, Mongolia, and Central Asia. The text of the joint statement issued on November 1 and its publication in media were fully agreed on by the leadership of the aforementioned office.” She did not, however, directly comment on McConaghy’s statement.

The “joint statement” claimed that access to the content reporting system “will allow the Ministry to promptly report content containing violations of both Facebook’s global content policy and the national legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan.”

In the statement, Facebook Regional Public Policy Director George Chen says Facebook is pleased to be working with the Kazakh government, citing hopes that granting access to the content reporting system will help “authorized bodies of the Government of Kazakhstan to more effectively and efficiently fight harmful content,” particularly ensuring the safety of children on the internet.

Kazakhstan’s presentation, particularly in calling such access “exclusive,” seems to have been misleading, given Meta’s clarifications. It’s ironic that an announcement about systems put in place to combat misinformation and harmful material was itself so misleading and the subject of such miscommunication. There’s certainly some conflict in interpretation here: What Kazakhstan calls “exclusive,” Meta says is available to all governments; what Kazakhstan says was a “joint statement” has only been published by the Kazakh government.

At the top level, it seems Meta and Kazakhstan are talking past each other. Per the available reporting on McConaghy’s statement, Meta did not directly deny the quotes attributed to Chen in Kazakhstan’s “joint statement.” Arguably, they have different audiences in mind. Meta is already under significant pressure in the West following whistleblower leaks and a coordinated campaign of investigative reporting about Facebook’s influence and impact. Reports that it had granted an authoritarian government “exclusive” access to report content only played into the very narrative the company is struggling to push back on. Kazakhstan, meanwhile, doesn’t necessarily need any kind of exclusive access but rather the perception of it to achieve its goals of chilling criticism online.