If you’re Ukrainian, Meta will no longer allow you to use its platform to call for the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin. You can still wish for Russian soldiers, other politicians, and military leaders to meet grisly ends, though.
Per Reuters, the social media giant and parent company of Facebook and Instagram has partially reversed course on a controversial content moderation policy that temporarily allowed users in Eastern European countries to make violent threats against Russian soldiers, politicians, military leaders, and the country’s president. Meta had made the shift in response to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“We are now narrowing the focus to make it explicitly clear in the guidance that it is never to be interpreted as condoning violence against Russians in general...We also do not permit calls to assassinate a head of state,” Meta global affairs President Nick Clegg recently told staff in an internal memo. Russian soldiers, other politicians, and military leaders still seem to be fair game.
The change had allowed for users to make death threats against Putin, as well as Belarusian President and Putin-ally Alexander Lukashenko—a clear departure from the company’s normal policy about violent rhetoric.
“In order to remove any ambiguity about our stance, we are further narrowing our guidance to make explicit that we are not allowing calls for the death of a head of state on our platforms,” Clegg continued.
When asked about these changes by Gizmodo last week, a Meta spokesperson clarified that the policy was meant to “preserve voice and expression for people who are facing invasion”—i.e., the Ukrainians. However, Meta’s policy went into effect not just in Ukraine, but also in over half a dozen other countries, including Poland, Georgia, Romania, Estonia, and even in Russia itself.
Meta’s changes did not go over particularly well with the Russian government, which responded by declaring the company an “extremist organization” and banning Instagram and Whatsapp throughout the country (Facebook had already been banned a week earlier). The Russian Investigative Committee, Russia’s primary federal investigative authority, also opened a criminal case against the tech giant, accusing it of enabling “illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation.”
The changes weren’t well-received in other quarters, either. A spokesperson for the United Nations rights office criticized the company, warning the new policy shifts could lead to general “hate speech” against Russians.
Clegg also made it clear that the company stands against categorical demonizations of the Russian people. “Meta stands against Russophobia. We have no tolerance for calls for genocide, ethnic cleansing, or any kind of discrimination, harassment, or violence towards Russians on our platform,” he said, adding that the company planned to refer the recent changes to its oversight board for further review.
We reached out to Meta for clarification about its recent policy changes and will update this story if they respond.