LONDON – The owner of Facebook Meta Platforms said on Friday that it was necessary to temporarily change their content policy, only for Ukraine, in order for users to speak out against the Russian attack, as Russia opened a criminal case after the company said it would allow posts like “the death of Russian invaders.”
Russian prosecutors have asked a court to designate the US tech giant as an “extremist organization”, and the media regulator has said it will restrict Meta’s access to Instagram starting at March 14. The company said the decision will affect 80 million users in Russia.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said: “A criminal case has been initiated … in connection with illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation against employees of the Russian Federation. of the American company Meta, which owns the social networks Facebook and Instagram”.
The committee reports directly to President Vladimir Putin. It was not immediately clear what the consequences of the criminal case might be.
Meta’s president of global affairs Nick Clegg reacted to the Russian government’s action with a statement on Twitter saying the company aimed to protect the right to speak as an expression of self-defence in response to the crisis. invade Ukraine and this policy applies only to Ukraine.
“If we applied our standard content policies without any adjustments, we would now remove the content of ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and anger at the military force, this would be viewed as unacceptable,” Clegg wrote.
He added: “We do not quarrel with the Russian people.
Two weeks after Russia’s war in Ukraine, a Meta spokesman said on Thursday the company had temporarily changed its rules on political speech, allowing posts such as “death battle with invaders” strategy of Russia”, although it will not allow calls of violence against Russian civilians.
Meta said the temporary change is intended to allow forms of political expression that often violate its rules.
The company’s supervisory board said Friday that it has been briefed by the company on its policies regarding Ukraine, and that context is important to content policies and enforcement.
Internal emails seen by Reuters previously said temporary policy changes on calling for violence against Russian soldiers had been applied to the following markets: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine.
A spokesperson for Meta declined to comment beyond Clegg’s statement.
The emails seen by Reuters also show that the US company has temporarily allowed posts calling for the death of Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We hope it is not true because if it is, it means that the most definitive measures will be taken to stop the operation of this company. .
For more than a year, Russia has worked to rein in the influence of US tech giants including Alphabet Inc’s GOOGL.O Google and Alphabet Inc’s Twitter TWTR.N, repeatedly penalizing them for allowing content they publish. is illegal content.
But the invasion of Ukraine – met with international condemnation and unprecedented sanctions – has sharply increased the stakes in the information war.
Social media offers the opportunity for dissidents against Putin’s line – closely followed by the tightly controlled state media – that Moscow is forced to launch a “special military operation”. special” to protect Russian-speaking people in Ukraine against genocide, demilitarization and “demilitarization” of the country.
The Investigative Committee said Facebook’s move could violate the provisions of Russia’s criminal law against public calls for extremist activities.
The state prosecutor’s office said: “Such actions by the management of the company (Meta) not only form the idea that terrorist activity is allowed, but also aim to incite hatred and hatred. against citizens of the Russian Federation,” the state prosecutor’s office said.
It said it had applied to the court to recognize Meta as an extremist organization and to ban its activities in Russia.
Other Meta services are also very popular in Russia. Last year, Facebook was estimated to have 7.5 million users and 67 million WhatsApp, according to researcher Insider Intelligence.
Last week, Russia said it was banning Facebook in the country in response to what it said was restricting access to Russian media on the platform.
Instagram is a favorite tool of Putin’s rival Alexei Navalny, who used it in a message posted to his lawyers and supporters on Friday urging Russians to join the protests. protest against the Ukraine war and “Putin maniacs” this weekend.
Russia’s RIA news agency cited a source as saying WhatsApp would not be affected by the legal moves because the messaging app is seen as a means of communication rather than a way to post information.
(Edited by Susan Fenton, Mark Potter, Louise Heavens, Peter Henderson, Nick Zieminski and Cynthia Osterman)