If there’s one thing big tech has been consistent on it’s their idea that violent speech should be silenced around the world. What they’ve been even more consistent on is picking and choosing what constitutes “violent speech.” If you belong to the right group, any and all words directed your way that is anything less than exultation is dangerous because it may lead to violence. If you’re in the wrong group, you’re on your own.
Today, Russians are finding themselves in the wrong group.
According to Reuters, Facebook and Instagram will now allow hate speech and calls for violence against the Russian invaders:
Meta Platforms (FB.O) will allow Facebook and Instagram users in some countries to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion, according to internal emails seen by Reuters on Thursday, in a temporary change to its hate speech policy.
The social media company is also temporarily allowing some posts that call for death to Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, according to internal emails to its content moderators.
“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,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.
On a surface level, I don’t disagree with this decision. If someone were invading my country and I still had access to the internet I’d be giving away the enemy’s locations whenever I saw them and doing what I could to put them in danger using social media as a tool. My Twitter feed would be nothing but encouraging violence against the people trying to kill me and my countrymen.
That said, it seems odd that Facebook (or the Meta Platforms formerly known as Facebook) would suddenly be okay with this given that their stance for the longest time has been that speech could be considered violent on the lightest of excuses and could lead to much greater violence as a result.
Case in point, many were banned, including President Donald Trump, over the excuse that their claims that the election was stolen led to the January 6 riot at the capitol. To be clear, Trump outwardly said that those rioting at the capitol should not do so directly, but they still claimed that his very presence online and complaints about the election being fraudulent were fueling violence.
According to Facebook, we couldn’t talk about the Chinese origin of the COVID-19 virus because it would fuel violence against Asian people here in the states. The entire “stop Asian hate” campaign was created around this idea that even mentioning the fact that the Coronavirus was Chinese-born would send people into a frenzy and cause them to lash out at Asian-Americans
If Facebook was still maintaining its previous ideas about what constitutes dangerous speech that leads to violence, then promoting violence against Russian troops will inevitably lead to violence against innocent Russian people.
It gets better…
According to Reuters, Facebook will also allow temporary praise of the Azov battalion, a group of ultra-nationalists that the United States considers a terrorist group:
Emails also showed that Meta would allow praise of the right-wing Azov battalion, which is normally prohibited, in a change first reported by The Intercept.
The Meta spokesperson previously said the company was “for the time being, making a narrow exception for praise of the Azov Regiment strictly in the context of defending Ukraine, or in their role as part of the Ukraine National Guard.”
But wouldn’t this praise open up the opportunity for the spreading of the group’s messaging and increase recruitment efforts? Facebook shuts down conservative groups on the basis that they were spreading disinformation that originated from Russia and feared this would sway elections by recruiting people to the Republican’s side.
So Meta Platforms needs to get its messaging straight here. Is violent speech an overall problem because it will lead to violence against innocent people or not? Is the promotion of ultra-nationalist groups a ban-worthy offense because it may lead to dangerous wrong-think or not?
It would appear that Facebook is okay with violent speech as long as hate for a specific group is in vogue, and it will abandon its previously held claims that violent speech will only lead to violence against the innocent to boot.
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