comscore Judge, jury, executioner: Facebook is trying to be everything, but why?

Judge, jury, executioner: Facebook is trying to be everything, but why?

Meta has announced that it will ‘temporarily’ allow users of two of its platforms, Facebook and Instagram, in some countries to call for violence against ‘Russian invaders’.


The Russian invasion of Ukraine has killed at least 549 civilians in Ukraine and injured at least 957 more. Amid these circumstances, Meta has announced that it will ‘temporarily’ allow users of two of its platforms, Facebook and Instagram, in some countries to call for violence against ‘Russian invaders’. Also Read - How to hide Instagram followers and following list: All you need to know

According to a Reuters report, the company will also temporarily allow some posts on Facebook and Instagram to call for the death of the Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The internal emails seen by Reuters show that the changes will apply to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Also Read - How to use sad face filter on Snapchat, Instagram: A step-by-step guide

The news was later confirmed by a Meta spokesperson who 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.”
Now, Facebook regularly takes down posts from its platforms that violate its community standards. However, in this case it is making an exception for people in a specific geography owing to the ongoing war. Also Read - Instagram trends: From Shark Tank India to Hera Pheri, here are the memes Indians loved sharing

What Facebook’s rules say?

Facebook’s community standards for Hate Speech prohibit people from sharing posts that could intimidate people or incite violence. “Content attacking concepts, institutions, ideas, practices or beliefs associated with protected characteristics, which are likely to contribute to imminent physical harm, intimidation or discrimination against the people associated with that protected characteristic. Facebook looks at a range of signs to determine whether there is a threat of harm in the content. These include, but are not limited to: content that could incite imminent violence or intimidation; whether there is a period of heightened tension such as an election or ongoing conflict; and whether there is a recent history of violence against the targeted protected group,” the guidelines state.

Similarly, the company’s guidelines for Violence and Incitement prohibit users from sharing content that talk about severity of violence. “Statements of intent to commit high-severity violence. This includes content where a symbol represents the target and/or includes a visual of an armament or method to represent violence…Calls for high-severity violence, including content where no target is specified but a symbol represents the target and/or includes a visual of an armament or method that represents violence,” the Violence and Incitement guidelines state.

“Statements admitting to committing high-severity violence except when shared in a context of redemption, self-defence or when committed by law enforcement, military or state security personnel.”

But this is not the first time that Meta (formerly Facebook) has made an exception.

Prior exceptions

As per a Vice report dating back to 2021, Facebook temporarily allowed people to post the words ‘Death to Khamenei’ for a brief span of two weeks. The issue dates back to July 2021 when water shortages coupled with US-sanctions and Covid-pandemic in the country lead to anti-government protests in Tehran. At the time, some Instagram accounts had posted content with the words ‘Death to Khamenei’, which were promptly taken down by the company.

Later, the company changed its stance after being prompted by the local activists. In a statement to the activists seen by Motherboard at the time, the company said that it changed its stance owing to the context of the conversations wherein the phrase was being used. The company acknowledged that the word ‘Khamenei’ was being used as a ‘stand-in for the Iranian regime’ instead of being used as a ‘direct threat or call for violence against him as an individual.’ “Accordingly, we have made a limited, time-bound newsworthiness exception to allow this content. For the next two weeks (subject to further review based on the situation on the ground), we will allow use of ‘death to Khamenei’ in the context of political protests in Iran,” the company had said at the time.

What does this mean?

Facebook is walking on a tight rope when it comes to the stand that it has taken amid the ongoing situation. The company, from what its spokesperson told the media, will allow people to express strong opinions about the Russian army and the government but not the civilian people. This means that any post targeted at Russian people will still be considered a violation of the company’s community guidelines and will warrant the same actions on part of the company as it has been taking up until now.

Now, Facebook’s rationale behind this temporary exception is Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine. Basically, it is saying that it’s ok to share posts containing violence or hate speech in the case of a war. The question that we need to ask here is who gave Facebook, or more specifically, Meta, the moral authority to define when it is ok to express certain opinions, in this case violent, and when it is not? And more importantly, how and where do you draw the line?

In this case, Meta has drawn the line at Russian civilians, keeping them out of the purview of its ‘temporary exceptions’. But aren’t all Russian soldiers, Russian citizens as well? Aren’t they someone’s brothers, someone’s sons and someone’s husbands? Or does being a part of the Russian army somehow make them deserving of all the hate speech and violence that people in the rest of the world are targeting at them?

There is no justification for war. No cause is worth killing thousands of people, tearing apart families and taking away childhood from the kids in the affected region. But what is happening in this case is that the Russian soldiers are being demonised for being on the wrong side of the situation. In all likelihood, a lot of them may not be agreeing to what’s happening in Ukraine at the moment. On the other hand, there might be few who believe that they are fighting for the right cause. In addition to this, there might be soldiers, who didn’t have a choice. In light of this information, is it fair to judge everyone in the same way? Is one-size-fits-all the right way to go about this situation?

Soldiers and people are being killed on both the sides of the border. Blood is being shed on both the sides of the border. No one deserves violence and hatred. Neither on ground nor on social media.

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  • Published Date: March 11, 2022 8:57 PM IST

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