Voice of America manager argues for keeping ‘hateful’ Facebook comments on U.S., France, and gays

BBG Watch Commentary

Voice of America (VOA) Facebook pages get a dismally low number of comments from readers when compared to such news sites as Russia’s RT, BBC, or New York Times. Many of the very few comments U.S. taxpayer-funded VOA gets on its Facebook pages and its own websites targeting international audiences are, however, “hateful” toward the U.S. After the terror attacks in Paris, they also include what could be described as “hate speech” toward France. There have always been hateful comments on Voice of America websites and social media pages toward gays.

This is what one journalist reported:

“I thought you might be interested in this exchange about hate speech on the VOA French Facebook page. I took a look at the comments, and basically, quite a few people make fun of the French and dismiss the deaths in Paris, commenting that people die a lot more in DRC, etc, and that the French anyway get what they deserve for their own attacks in Syria, Africa etc….”

Since VOA news reports and posts get very few comments in general, there is a strong likelihood that many of those few ones VOA gets are from trolls employed by various foreign governments and groups. This may result in a concentration of anti-U.S. and anti-gay comments that any news organization less targeted by trolls would get.

Voice of America managers have noticed these “hateful” comments on VOA Facebook pages, but some have argued strongly that “hate speech” should not be removed as long as it “does not advocate violence” in a direct way.

Censoring Facebook comments is a sensitive issue for any journalistic organization committed to the ideals of freedom of expression. Some media outlets deal with “hate speech” and their inability to moderate comments by banning comments altogether. This is done under the assumption that comments dominated by trolls do not reflect the true nature of public opinion. To many observers, VOA sites appear to have a large number of troll-generated comments.

Some news organizations, especially in France, have turned off their Facebook comments altogether after the terrorist attacks in Paris to prevent troll-produced “hate speech,” but it appears that Voice of America management, even though it consists of U.S. government employees whose salaries are paid by American taxpayers, is opposed to such a move for VOA.

One Voice of America manager admitted that VOA gets “hundreds of extremely hateful comments about homosexuality.” He pointed out that in response to anti-gay comments “we don’t shut comments down.”

Even though pro-ISIS and pro-Kremlin trolls appear to be especially active on the Voice of America websites, Facebook pages and other VOA social media platforms, this is what the Voice of America manager wrote to VOA staffers in his language service:

VOICE OF AMERICA MANAGER: “When we receive hundreds of extremely hateful comments about homosexuality, we don’t shut comments down. When people rejoice over natural disasters (like tornadoes) in the United States that kill a dozen people, we don’t shut comments down. I am not promoting or defending these comments. I am as saddened, disappointed, and disgusted by them as the rest of us. But this is the nature of the beast with social media. And this is the US. We do not have European-style hate speech laws.”
 
“I do think we should warn our Facebook fans that if they post messages that advocate violence, they can be removed and banned from our page. Nico says he will post that tonight. If anyone sees a specific message that you believe crosses the line into violence, please let us know.”

Voice of America English News Facebook post. Some of the Voice of America's foreign language Facebook pages include even more anti-U.S. and anti-gay comments.

Voice of America English News Facebook post. Some of the Voice of America’s foreign language Facebook pages include even more anti-U.S. and anti-gay comments.

The Voice of America is 100% funded by U.S. taxpayers (about $200 million annually) through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a U.S. federal agency. Some observers who have seen a trail of email exchanges between VOA managers on this topic, were horrified by the management’s willingness to dismiss the issue without dealing with it in some way. Some of these critics currently work at the Voice of America as journalists.

Here are some of their reactions:

 

“Forwarding you a trail of [Voice of America] emails about hatred against the West (including the US) being promoted on F2A [VOA French to Africa Service] Facebook page. It’s mind-boggling!”

 

“Then a [Voice of America] Division chief who says he is torn on whether we should let hatred being promoted on our digital platform!!! Unbelievable!!!”

 

“These are the people deciding our future, the future of the service and division, the same people who decide who to hire and who to promote. How can they get away with such things and keep their job?!?! I’m flabbergasted!! We are Voice of AMERICA and we are the same media promoting hatred against America. And the poor American taxpayer is paying for this.”

 

“…if these comments are overwhelmingly expressing hate only, I’m not sure posting them is appropriate.”

“We need some guidance from the agency on how to treat such comments during such a difficult time.”

 

“I recommend we turn off our comments on our articles on Facebook. 98% are doing the apology of the terror attack in France and it is not contributing to any debate. VOA should not be promoting hatred.”

“France24, RFI and even Liberation, … did just that.” [turned off their Facebook comments].

 

While its comments are dominated by anti-US statements and hate speech, Voice of America has dismal number of posts, web traffic and audience engagement on social media, which may limit any damage done by anti-U.S. and anti-gay comments.

With its agency resources being diverted to and used up by the BBG’s enormous bureaucracy, Voice of America is no longer capable of functioning as a 24/7 news organization. VOA had over the weekend only 9 Paris terror-related Facebook posts in English and 7 in Russian. BBC English had 50 Facebook posts, and BBC Russian had 27. Germany’s DW had 34 posts in English and 34 in Russian. RT had 52 Facebook posts in English and 77 in Russian.

Numbers of “Likes” and comments on VOA Facebook pages are generally minuscule.

Among international broadcasters (BBC, DW, RT and VOA) Voice of America had received only 2% Facebook “Likes” for Paris terror-related posts in English and also only 1% in Russian (BBC English got 84%, RT English 12%, DW English 2%. Among Russian Facebook Paris terror related posts — BBC Russian got 38%, DW Russian 12%, RT Russian 32%, RFE/RL Russian 16% “Likes”). VOA English share of Facebook comments among international broadcasters was also only 1%.

 

Number of Facebook Comments for Paris Terror-Related Posts in English By International Broadcasters – November 13 – November 15, 2015, 10:00 PM EST


 

The Broadcasting Board of Governors released yesterday (November 16, 2015) its annual impact numbers, including what was billed as “an unprecedented weekly measured audience of 226 million.”

Internal and external critics doubt, however, that these numbers are anywhere near being accurate considering Voice of America’s dismal performance on social media. Critics point to reports of self-censoring of VOA news to achieve local placement in countries known for news censorship in order to increase the size of BBG’s audience even though such self-censorship of news violates the VOA Charter.

 
 

READ: Florida couple having sex while facing arrest number one U.S. news story on Voice of America French site for five days, BBG Watch, October 19, 2015

 

READ: Voice of America French to Africa service removes sex story after BBG Watch post, BBG Watch, October 22, 2015

 

READ: Barbarians in the Headquarters of Voice of America? – Cal State Professor condemns ‘secret visit’ to VOA of Ethiopian regime officials, BBG Watch, November 14, 2015

 
 

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