Facebook will not remove violent posts targeting Russian invaders amid Ukraine war

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On its online “Transparency Centre”, Meta Platforms, owner of Facebook and Instagram, insists: “We don’t allow hate speech on Facebook.” It stresses the importance of this policy in preventing “an environment of intimidation and exclusion” and the promotion of “offline violence”. But in a leaked email sent to the site’s moderators yesterday, on Thursday, Meta said: “We are issuing a spirit-of-the-policy allowance to allow [‘Tier One’] violent speech that would otherwise be removed under the Hate Speech policy.”

Under ‘Tier One’ restrictions, users are banned from posting “violent speech or support in written or visual form”.

But the email, seen by Reuters, highlighted the rule can be bent 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 is unclear from this whether Facebook users will be permitted to commit ‘hate speech’ against Russian citizens, so long as the context is the invasion.

Meta’s email goes on to clarify – in part – this confusion, noting: “The Hate Speech policy continues to prohibit attacks on Russians.”

In an attempt to justify its shift, Meta said: “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.”

Much has been made of Meta’s – previously Facebook’s)- ‘hate speech’ policy in recent years, especially following the suspension of former US President Donald Trump from the platform due to “a severe violation of our rules”.

The latest, leaked announcement has produced a backlash in the West, with some suggesting it could actually bolster support for Vladimir Putin in Russia.

READ MORE: Backlash against Putin’s war as school targeted in Europe

Former Russia corespondent Alec Luhn said in a post on Twitter: “This hate speech exception will be seen as proof of what Moscow has been claiming, that the world hates Russians just for who they are.”

Even if Meta’s rule change prevents Facebook users from uploading posts which promote violence against Russian citizens, there have been examples of Russian people – completely disconnected from the war – being persecuted since Putin’s invasion was launched.

There have been reports of schools largely attended by Russian children being vandalised in Germany, as well as of a Russian Orthodox church in Canada.

A Munich hospital refused to treat at least one Russian patient last week, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, with others suggesting the experience has not been quite so singular.

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Previously highly-respected Russian conductor Valery Gergiev was sacked earlier this month by the Philharmonic Orchestra of the same city, not for comments he did make on the invasion of Ukraine but for comments he did not make.

He “failed to speak out” against the war, according to the Guardian, and so was removed with pace.

Even Tchaikovsky, who died 107 years before Putin was first inaugurated President, has also been dropped by the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra because his music is “inappropriate at this time”.

The University of Milan also almost banned a course on 19th century Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky because he is (or, rather, was a Russian), but later backtracked.

Commenting on the leaked email, a Meta spokesperson said: “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.”

It is unclear from the statement what will actually count as a “credible” call and whether Meta will allow its users to speak violently about Russian citizens if a moderator believes the criteria for this is met.

The change is understood to apply in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Russia has responded to the report insisting, if it is true, Meta platforms will be kicked out of the country.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We don’t want to believe the Reuters report – it is just too difficult to believe.

“We hope it is not true because if it is true then it will mean that there will have to be the most decisive measures to end the activities of this company.”

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