What just happened? Facebook and Instagram come down hard on those who post anything advocating violence or death against others, but it is making a temporary exception. Users in some countries will be allowed to call for harm or even death to be inflicted on Russian soldiers and politicians such as Russian president Vladimir Putin or Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.
Reuters reports that Meta sent internal emails to Facebook and Instagram content moderators confirming a change in its hate speech policy. “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,’” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.
Any calls for violence against Russian civilians remain off limits. “The Hate Speech policy continues to prohibit attacks on Russians,” the email confirmed.
The rules calling for the death of leaders are slightly different. These posts are allowed providing they do not include other targets or have “two indicators of credibility,” such as the location or method.
“These are temporary measures designed to preserve voice and expression for people who are facing invasion. As always, we are prohibiting calls for violence against Russians outside of the narrow context of the current invasion,” Meta added.
The policy change only applies to users in certain countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
“We are issuing a violent spirit-of-the-policy allowance to allow T1 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 (eg, content mentions the invasion, self-defense, etc.),” read the email.
The message also said that the change came about because “Russian soldiers” is being used as a proxy for the Russian military.
The change isnt without precedent. Vice reported that Facebook allowed people to post the words “Death to Khamenei” or feature videos of people saying or chanting this phrase for a limited two-week period last year.
️We demand that authorities stop the extremist activities of @Meta, take measures to bring the perpetrators to justice. Users of #facebook , #Instagram did not give the owners of these platforms the right to determine the criteria of truth and pit nations against each other. https://t.co/1RkrjRmEtA pic.twitter.com/sTacSm4nDt
— Russian Embassy in USA (@RusEmbUSA) March 11, 2022
The Russian Embassy in the United States responded to the policy change with a statement on Twitter calling for US authorities to stop the “extremist activities” of Meta. “Users of #Facebook & #Instagram did not give the owners of these platforms the right to determine the criteria of truth and pit nations against each other,” the Embassy tweeted.
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all been blocked by the Russian government in the wake of the Ukraine invasion. In the case of Facebook, it came after the social network blocked state media outlets RT and Sputnik in the European Union. Meta also started demoting content from Facebook and Instagram accounts worldwide that were linked to Russian state media.