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Ukrainians can no longer demand Putin’s death on Facebook and Instagram, Meta says in U-turn

Meta is walking back a controversial change that marked it as an ‘extremist organisation’ by Russia

Adam Smith
Tuesday 15 March 2022 09:53 GMT
Nick Clegg talks to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland in 2013. The former Deputy Prime Minister has now been banned from entering Russia
Nick Clegg talks to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland in 2013. The former Deputy Prime Minister has now been banned from entering Russia (Crown Copyright)

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is narrowing its controversial moderation policy for Ukrainians to prohibit calls for the death of Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The technology giant had previously allowed for such calls to be made on its platform – despite its hate speech rules – as part of a moderation change that allowed posts promoting violence against Russian forces.

On the same day, Russia opened a criminal case against the social media firm calling it an “extremist organisation” and has subsequently banned Instagram in the country. The main Facebook app had been already banned.

“We are now narrowing the focus to make it explicitly clear in the guidance that it is never to be interpreted as condoning violence against Russians in general,” Meta global affairs President Nick Clegg wrote in a post on the company’s internal platform on Sunday that was seen by Reuters.

“We also do not permit calls to assassinate a head of state ... So, in order to remove any ambiguity about our stance, we are further narrowing our guidance to make explicit that we are not allowing calls for the death of a head of state on our platforms.

“These are difficult decisions. Circumstances in Ukraine are fast moving. We try to think through all the consequences, and we keep our guidance under constant review because the context is always evolving.

“Meta stands against Russophobia. We have no tolerance for calls for genocide, ethnic cleansing, or any kind of discrimination, harassment, or violence towards Russians on our platform.”

Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The social media giant had previously restricted access to Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik on its platforms across the European Union; other technology companies like YouTube and TikTok have taken similar measures.

While Facebook and Instagram is banned in Russia, authorities are willing to turn a blind eye to citizens looking to access the services through other means.

Russian citizens have been using VPNs at a significantly higher rate than before the invasion to bypass the government’s restrictions. Reports indicate that downloads for the top VPN software in Russia from an average of 16,000 per day to over 700,000 daily downloads since 24 February.

However, users paying for advertising on the platforms could face consequences for “financing extremism” and have their accounts blocked.

WhatsApp, which is also owned by Meta, is still allowed in Russia because it is a means of communication rather than a social media platform, according to reports from Russian media.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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