Facebook and Instagram have said they will allow users in some countries to call for violence against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian soldiers, according to an internal email seen by Reuters on Thursday.
“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,” Reuters quoted a Meta spokesperson as saying in a statement.
The social media company is also temporarily allowing some posts that call for death to Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, according to internal emails to its content moderators.
The calls for the leaders’ deaths will be allowed unless they contain other targets or have two indicators of credibility, such as the location or method, one email said, in a recent change to the company’s rules on violence and incitement.
The decision to allow users in certain countries to be able to make such posts, according to Nick Clegg, Meta’s Global Affairs officer, is temporary and “taken in extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances.”
“I want to be crystal clear: Our policies are focused on protecting people’s rights to speech as an expression of self-defence in reaction to a military invasion of their country,” he said in a statement.
“The fact is, if we applied our standard content policies without any adjustments we would now be removing content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury at the invading military forces, which would rightly be viewed as unacceptable.”
He noted that the policy only applies in Ukraine and the company has not changed its policies against hate speech targeting Russian people.
The temporary policy changes on calls for violence to Russian soldiers apply to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine, according to one email.
“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-defence, etc.),” it said in the email.
“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 stated.
Responding to Meta’s new policy against it, Russia on Friday announced plans to block access to Instagram and launched a criminal case against its owner, Meta Platforms Inc.
Friday’s move is the latest in Russia’s confrontation with United States-based social media platforms that has escalated since its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s communications and media regulator, Roskomnadzor, said it was restricting access to hugely popular Instagram because the platform is spreading “calls to commit violent acts against Russian citizens, including military personnel.”
The ban will come into effect on Monday, it said, allowing active Instagram users “time to transfer their photos and videos to other social networks and notify their followers.”
Russia’s communications regulator had on March 4, blocked Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook for restrictions of access to Russian media on its platform, more than a week after Moscow invaded its neighbour Ukraine.
The regulator, Roskomnadzor, said there had been 26 cases of discrimination against Russian media by Facebook since October 2020, with access restricted to state-backed channels like RT and the RIA news agency.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, already said it was launching an investigation of Meta, and prosecutors pushed for the Silicon Valley giant to be branded “extremist”.
“A criminal case has been initiated … in connection with illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation by employees of the American company Meta, which owns the social networks Facebook and Instagram,” said the committee, which reports directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are popular in Russia, with 7.5 million, 50.8 million and 67 million users last year respectively, according to researcher Insider Intelligence.
Russia’s RIA news agency, citing a source, said the legal moves will not affect WhatsApp as the messaging app is considered a means of communication not a way to post information.
Reacting to Meta’s relaxing of its rules, UN Rights Office spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell said that the policy lacked clarity, which “could certainly contribute to hate speech directed at Russians in general.”
Chiamaka Okafor is a reporter at Premium Times in partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe.”