Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, temporarily eased its policy on violent expression following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying it will allow statements such as “death to Russian invaders” but not credible threats against civilians.
The political decision was immediately met with controversy, as Russia’s embassy in the United States on Friday demanded that Washington halt the “extremist activities” of the Facebook owner.
“Meta’s aggressive and criminal policy leading to hate speech and hostility towards Russians is outrageous,” the embassy said in a statement. “The actions of the company are further evidence of the information war without rules declared on our country.”
The tech giant, however, defended its political decision.
“As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have temporarily allowed forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules, such as violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders,'” it says in a statement.
“We will not yet allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians,” he added.
Meta’s statement followed a report by the Reuters news agency that said the policy applies to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine, citing the emails. from the company to its content moderators.
The firm did not respond to a request for confirmation of the geographic limits of the policy.
Meta, which boasts billions of users worldwide on its platforms, has previously struggled with what would allow people to post in times of upheaval.
In July 2021, the firm temporarily allowed posts calling for “death to Khamenei,” referring to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, during protests that rocked the country.
Tech platforms have had to navigate a number of thorny issues related to the war in Ukraine, such as when US Senator Lindsey Graham called for the assassination of Russian President Vladimir Putin in a televised interview and on Twitter.
“The only way this is going to end is for someone in Russia to take this guy down,” reads Graham’s March 3 tweet, which Twitter has not removed.
Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian Army?
The only way this is going to end is for someone in Russia to take this guy down.
You would be doing a great service to your country and the world.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) March 4, 2022
Meta’s decision elicited sharply contrasting opinions.
“The policy refers to calls for violence against Russian soldiers,” said Emerson Brooking, a disinformation expert at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Laboratory.
“A call for violence here, by the way, is also a call for resistance because the Ukrainians are resisting a violent invasion,” he added.
But some expressed deep concerns, including Lehigh University professor Jeremy Littau, who wrote on Twitter: “‘We don’t allow hate speech except against certain people from a certain country’ is a box of worms.”
“We don’t allow hate speech, except against certain people from a certain country” is a fucking can of worms.
— Jeremy Littau (@JeremyLittau) March 10, 2022
Facebook and other American tech giants have moved to penalize Russia for invading Ukraine. Apple and Microsoft have announced that they will freeze the sale of their products in Russia, while other companies have made public their “pauses” of certain commercial activities or links.
Last week, US Internet service provider Cogent Communications said it had “terminated its contracts with customers billing outside of Russia.”
Meanwhile, Russia has also moved to block access to the Facebook network, joining the small club of countries that exclude the world’s largest social network, along with China and North Korea.
The Russian authorities have also they tightened their grip in critical media, even though press freedoms in the country were already rapidly declining.
Moscow blocked Facebook and restricted Twitter on the same day last week that it backed the imposition of prison sentences on media that publish “false information” about the armed forces.
The war is running parallel to a period of significant crackdown on opposition voices, which has included the arrest of protest leaders and participants.