Epoch Media Group Objects to Facebook’s False Claim It Is Linked to the BL

December 23, 2019 Updated: December 30, 2019
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Executive Summary

There has been extensive reporting about Facebook’s takedown of The BL Facebook pages for alleged inauthentic activity. The BL  ( The Beauty of Life, About Us) and its activities have been portrayed as being part of Epoch Media Group (EMG) and by extension The Epoch Times. This is categorically false. EMG has never been affiliated with BL and does not engage in or support the behavior BL is alleged to be involved in. At the time of writing, EMG properties are not affected by Facebook’s actions on BL pages.

The situation is complicated by the fact that BL is connected with the independent company Đại Kỷ Nguyên (Vietnamese Epoch Times, or VET), with which EMG was forced to cut ties in October 2018. Illustrating VET’s and BL’s clear separation from EMG, YouTube recently suspended VET’s and BL’s channels at the behest of Hong Kong Epoch Times, because of repeated copyright infringement.

We offer some of the details of this situation below, for interested parties to assess for themselves. It’s very unfortunate that, in a pattern spanning years, Facebook representatives have not communicated with EMG staff. As we’ve spent years developing large Facebook properties, we’re keen to have a good relationship with Facebook.

The Details

Epoch Media Group Has No Relationship With The BL

Facebook issued a statement on Dec. 20 exposing deceptive social media practices by BL, but then drew a false conclusion, claiming that BL’s activities were “linked to” EMG. In doing so, Facebook has damaged EMG’s good name.

EMG is an independent news organization, which includes the newspaper The Epoch Times and the TV network NTD. It has never had any affiliation with BL. It had no knowledge of the activities for which Facebook has punished BL by deleting its pages, and EMG has no authority over BL.

As reported by Snopes, BL has stated and reiterated that there is no affiliation between it and EMG. To this point, the removal of pages by Facebook has not affected EMG’s pages.

Facebook acted with too much haste in publicly charging EMG with involvement in BL’s practices without ever contacting EMG to ask about any possible relationship with BL. However, the role played by Đại Kỷ Nguyên (Vietnamese Epoch Times) and its CEO, Trung Vu, does make the situation confusing.

In its statement, Facebook says: “Although the people behind this network attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation linked this activity to Epoch Media Group, a US-based media organization, and individuals in Vietnam working on its behalf.”

The language used by Facebook is irresponsibly unclear. By saying that EMG is “linked” to BL’s activity, Facebook suggests that EMG is responsible for BL’s activities or has coordinated with BL, without Facebook’s statement providing any evidence that this is so. Media outlets have then jumped on the hint Facebook has given, and reported EMG is guilty of activities it has had no part in.

To clear our good name, we need to address the leading pieces of evidence used in other reports, not the Facebook statement, to justify the charge that EMG is somehow “linked” to BL.

Epoch Media Group Cut Ties With Vietnamese Epoch Times (Which Is Connected With The BL) Over a Year Ago

BL was incorporated as an independent company in 2016 by Trung Vu, the CEO of Viet Epoch Times (VET). Trung heads up both VET and BL. At no time was BL a part of EMG.

With Trung heading up both organizations, they shared some personnel and, as Snopes points out, a VET server hosted some BL activity. This mixing of resources was done without EMG’s knowledge or consent.

However, whatever responsibility VET has for BL’s operations, any possible involvement of EMG ended when it and VET went through a divorce during the months of August through October 2018. Trung wanted to start his own English-language media outlet and would not take direction from EMG, and so EMG cut ties with him and VET.

VET is independently registered, independently owned, and not part of EMG. EMG does not oversee its editorial guidelines, does not provide guidance for its operations, and has no communication with its management.

This separation was made public knowledge in October 2018 when Vietnamese was no longer listed as an edition on the Epoch Times website, as can be seen in an archived webpage from October 2018. (Compare “languages” in archived webpages from September 2018 and October 2018.)

Graphika and the Digital Forensics Lab Report Makes False Assumptions

A December 2019 report by Graphika and the Digital Forensics Lab commissioned by Facebook to examine the case of BL assumes that connections between VET and BL involve EMG. The report is apparently not aware that VET and EMG had separated more than a year prior.

Similarly, Snopes assumes that the hosting of BL on a VET server involves EMG, even though it had been informed by EMG of the break between EMG and BL in email responses to the first version of its report.

No BL Executives Were Known to Work for EMG and or to Administer EMG Facebook Pages

In a divorce, it is not unusual for there to be loose ends that are not taken care of.

A Facebook spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal “that executives of The BL were active administrators on Epoch Media Group-controlled pages.”

Upon learning of Facebook’s statement, EMG conducted its own internal investigation and determined that several people had not had their credentials revoked due to an administrative oversight. EMG is not aware of these individuals altering any EMG Facebook pages.

In August 2018, EMG revoked the Facebook credentials of VET staff. EMG is unaware of their possible affiliation with BL.

Similarly, while Snopes points out that Trung used an NTD email account when he incorporated BL in Wyoming in January 2019 (superseding the original 2016 incorporation in California), his possessing this account was an administrative oversight. It should have been deleted when EMG cut ties with him.

Snopes names a handful of former EMG employees who now work for BL and presents this as evidence that EMG and BL are “linked.”

But Snopes also reports that BL says the former EMG employees are now full-time BL staff. In an email, BL told Snopes, “The BL has NO connection with The Epoch Times.”

EMG Took The BL to Task for Copyright Violations on YouTube

If there were a connection between BL and EMG, one would expect the two to share editorial content.

In December, VET published videos taken from Hong Kong Epoch Times. Hong Kong Epoch Times filed a complaint with YouTube, which then suspended VET’s and BL’s channels.

Subsequently, Trung sent a signed note to Hong Kong Epoch Times apologizing for having taken its content. This was not the action of someone who enjoyed an affiliation with EMG.

Correction Needed

We are disappointed by Facebook’s actions. Without giving EMG a chance to respond, Facebook published a loose charge that EMG is “linked” to BL’s alleged deceptive practices, giving the impression that EMG was somehow responsible for those practices. Several media outlets around the world have reported that EMG was involved, amplifying Facebook’s false claim.

Facebook’s failure to contact EMG is part of a perennial problem. Facebook has all along failed to provide a representative with whom EMG, a heavy Facebook user, could discuss issues that routinely come up.

We call upon Facebook to set the record straight and issue another statement explaining that EMG is not “linked” to BL, did not coordinate with BL, and is not responsible for BL’s actions.

EMG began with The Epoch Times newspaper. It was founded in the United States in the year 2000 in response to communist repression and censorship in China. Our founders, Chinese-Americans who themselves had fled communism, sought to create an independent media to bring the world uncensored and truthful information.

EMG is now a worldwide media company, but it continues to play a special role in its coverage of China.

Just last month, in a Nov. 15, 2019, letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Congressman Jim Banks raised concerns about communist China’s actions against EMG and about Facebook’s banning of The Epoch Times from advertising its content and products.

“The United States cannot afford to have domestic companies aid the Chinese Communist Party’s effort to censor dissenting viewpoints. … American companies should support America’s values—not China’s,” Banks wrote.

Follow Stephen on Twitter: @StephenEpoch