Facebook, IG to Allow Calls for Violence Against Invading Russians

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  • Reuters reported Thursday that Meta would allow posts from certain users that called for violence against Russian invaders — when related to the conflict in Ukraine. 
  • The changes apply to users in certain countries.
  • Reuters cited several internal emails sent to content moderators.

Citing several internal emails, Reuters reported Thursday that Meta Platforms – parent company to Instagram and Facebook – will allow speech on the platforms from people in specific countries that advocates for violence against invading Russians and Russian soldiers, as long as it’s in a context related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders.’ We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.” a Meta spokesperson told Insider.

The changes in terms are temporary, Reuters reported.

The platforms also will allow speech that expresses a desire for the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, from users in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and other countries. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, and is an ally of Putin. 

Citing an email, Reuters reported that the threats or calls against the leaders would only be allowed if they do not discuss other potential victims and do not contain “two indicators of credibility, such as the location or method.” 

Facebook’s “Transparency Center” has a section about violence and incitement, which says, “While we understand that people commonly express disdain or disagreement by threatening or calling for violence in non-serious ways, we remove language that incites or facilitates serious violence.”

More specifically, it adds, “Do not post.. Threats that could lead to death (and other forms of high-severity violence).”

The emails reviewed by Reuters said that expressing the desire for violence against Russian soldiers is permitted because it was operating as a symbol for the Russian military. The same principle would not count for prisoners of war. 

Reuters cited a “series” of internal emails sent to content moderators. One email said that the rule change related to Russian soldiers would apply to users in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine, the outlet reported. 

The outlet also quoted one of the internal emails discussing the changes: 

“We are issuing a spirit-of-the-policy allowance to allow T1 violent speech that would otherwise be removed under the Hate Speech policy when: (a) targeting Russian soldiers, EXCEPT prisoners of war, or (b) targeting Russians where it’s clear that the context is the Russian invasion of Ukraine (e.g., content mentions the invasion, self-defense, etc.),” the email read.

“We are doing this because we have observed that in this specific context, ‘Russian soldiers’ is being used as a proxy for the Russian military. The Hate Speech policy continues to prohibit attacks on Russians,” the email to moderators also said.

Reuters said the emails noted another content permissions change: allowing speech that positively highlights the Azov battalion, a far-right Ukrainian paramilitary group previously banned in 2019, when related to praising them for being in the country’s National Guard or defending them. A Meta spokesperson has confirmed this to Reuters, but it was first reported by The Intercept. 

Social media companies have responded to issues around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, such as by adding cautionary labels to Tweets from state-run media and reducing their circulation on the platform. Meta also introduced rules to help fight misinformation about the conflict.

Russia has responded, too: It blocked Facebook last week. 

“Social media is bad for dictators, that’s why Putin took us down,”  Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble Tuesday at an event in Dubai for International Women’s day sponsored by Cartier.

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