Meta defends policy on allowing violent rhetoric towards Russia, insists it won’t tolerate ‘Russophobia’

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Meta, the parent company of social media giants Facebook and Instagram, is defending a policy that has sparked a fierce backlash among critics. 

Reuters first reported Thursday on a temporary policy carve-out to permit violent rhetoric towards Russia and its president Vladimir Putin among users in some European nations during the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. 

FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM TEMPORARILY ALLOWING CALLS FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST PUTIN, RUSSIANS AMONG SOME EUROPEAN USERS

The Russian embassy accused Meta of “aggressive and criminal behavior,” urging the U.S. government to “stop the extremist activities of Meta and take measures to bring the perpetrators to justice,” according to Reuters’ reporting on Friday. 

FILE PHOTO: Meta logo is placed on a Russian flag in this illustration taken February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Meta logo is placed on a Russian flag in this illustration taken February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Meta, issued a lengthy statement Friday addressing the situation. 

“There has been a lot of coverage and discussion of how we are applying our policies to speech in the context of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” Clegg began. “I want to be crystal clear: our policies are focused on protecting people’s rights to speech as an expression of self-defense in reaction to a military invasion of their country. The fact is, if we applied our standard content policies without any adjustments we would now be removing content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury at the invading military forces, which would rightly be viewed as unacceptable.”

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“To be clear, we are only going to apply this policy in Ukraine itself,” Clegg continued. “We have no quarrel with the Russian people. There is no change at all in our policies on hate speech as far as the Russian people are concerned. We will not tolerate Russophobia or any kind of discrimination, harassment or violence towards Russians on our platform. This is a temporary decision taken in extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances. We will be keeping the situation under review in the period ahead.”

Clegg’s statement suggests a shift in the policy as it was initially reported that it applied to several European nations, including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Russia and Ukraine – not just Ukraine as the Meta executive indicated. 

Meta did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for clarification. 

Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta is seen on smartpone in front of displayed logo of Facebook, Messenger, Intagram, Whatsapp and Oculus in this illustration picture taken October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Facebook’s new rebrand logo Meta is seen on smartpone in front of displayed logo of Facebook, Messenger, Intagram, Whatsapp and Oculus in this illustration picture taken October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Reuters reported Thursday that Facebook and Instagram users “in some countries” can fuel violent rhetoric against Russians “in the context of the Ukraine invasion,” according to internal emails obtained by the newswire service. The emails specify that calls for violence against Russian soldiers were permitted since they are “used as a proxy for the Russian military.”

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In emails to Meta’s content moderators, Reuters alleged the company is “also temporarily allowing some posts that call for death to Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in countries including Russia, Ukraine and Poland.”

According to Reuters, posts calling for Putin and Lukashenko’s deaths will be allowed “unless they contain other targets or have two indicators of credibility, such as the location or method.” The posts also must be “clearly talking about the invasion of Ukraine,” per the report. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a video conference to address participants in a congress of the United Russia party marking the 20th anniversary of the party founding, in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a video conference to address participants in a congress of the United Russia party marking the 20th anniversary of the party founding, in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
((Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A spokesperson for Meta told Fox News Digital, “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 violence speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders.’ We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”

Meta later provided an updated statement, telling Fox News Digital, “In light of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, we made a temporary exception for those affected by war, to express violent sentiments toward invading armed forces such as ‘’death to the Russian invaders’. 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.”

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Facebook’s “Violence and Incitement” policy states, “While we understand that people commonly express disdain or disagreement by threatening or calling for violence in non-serious ways, we remove language that incites or facilitates serious violence. We remove content, disable accounts and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety. We also try to consider the language and context in order to distinguish casual statements from content that constitutes a credible threat to public or personal safety.”

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