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Meta Defends Policy on Calls for Violence that Angered Russia

Facebook’s owner, Meta, said on Friday that a temporary change in its content policy, effective only in Ukraine, was required to allow users to express their opposition to Russia’s attack, after Russia filed a criminal complaint after the company said it would allow posts like “death to the Russian invaders.”

Russian prosecutors have requested that the US tech giant be designated as a “extremist organization,” and the communications regulator has announced that access to Meta’s Instagram would be restricted beginning March 14. According to the corporation, the move will affect 80 million Russian consumers.

“A criminal case has been opened… in connection with illegal calls for murder and violence against Russian Federation residents by employees of the American firm Meta, which owns the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram,” Russia’s Investigative Committee said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin receives direct updates from the committee. The legal ramifications of the criminal case were not immediately obvious, reports Reuters.

Following the Russian government’s action, Meta Global Affairs President Nick Clegg stated that the company aimed to safeguard free speech as a form of self-defense in response to the invasion of Ukraine, and that the policy solely applied to Ukraine.

“If we used our standard content restrictions without any tweaks, we would currently be eliminating content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury at invading armed troops,” Clegg wrote. “We don’t have a beef with the Russians. As far as the Russian people are concerned, our policies against hate speech have not changed at all “Added he.

A Meta representative stated on Thursday that, two weeks into Russia’s war in Ukraine, the firm has temporarily changed its guidelines for political expression, allowing messages like “death to the Russian invaders,” but not demands for murder against Russian civilians. The temporary modification, according to Meta, was made to allow for kinds of political speech that would typically be prohibited.

On Friday, the business informed its oversight board on Ukraine-related regulations, emphasizing the importance of context for content policies and enforcement.

The interim policy adjustments on calls for violence against Russian military, according to internal Meta emails reviewed by Reuters, applied to the markets of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

Other than Clegg’s remark, a Meta representative declined to comment.

The emails obtained by Reuters also revealed that the US corporation had temporarily permitted messages calling for Putin’s or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s murder.

“We hope that isn’t true,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, “because if it is, it will imply that the most dramatic actions will have to be taken to put an end to this company’s activities.” Russia has been attempting for more than a year to limit the impact of US tech companies such as Alphabet’s Google and Twitter, fining them repeatedly for enabling what it considers to be unlawful content.

However, the invasion of Ukraine, which was met with widespread international criticism and harsh sanctions, has increased the stakes in the information battle dramatically.

Putin’s argument — faithfully repeated by the tightly controlled state media — that Moscow was forced to initiate its “special military operation” to save Russian-speakers in Ukraine against genocide and to demilitarize and “denazify” the country provides an opportunity for opposition. According to the Investigative Committee, Facebook’s action may breach sections of Russian penal legislation prohibiting public incitement for terrorist actions.

“Such activities by the (Meta) company’s management not only incite hatred and animosity against Russian Federation people, but also shape the impression that terrorist behavior is lawful,” the state prosecutor’s office said. It said it has applied to a court to have Meta recognized as an extremist group and its operations in Russia prohibited.

In Russia, Meta’s other services are very popular. According to researcher Insider Intelligence, Facebook had 7.5 million users last year while WhatsApp had 67 million. Russia announced last week that it will ban Facebook in the nation due to what it claimed were limits on access to Russian media on the platform.

Alexei Navalny, a jailed Putin foe, used Instagram in a message sent out via his attorneys and supporters on Friday, calling on Russians to attend rallies this weekend against the Ukraine war and “crazy maniac Putin.” According to a source quoted by Russia’s RIA news agency, WhatsApp would be unaffected by the legal actions because the messaging software is regarded a means of communication rather than a means of disseminating information.

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