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Meta to allow ‘violent speech’ against Russian soldiers, leaders in some countries

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Meta Platforms 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 in countries including Russia, Ukraine and Poland, according to a series of internal emails to its content moderators.

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These calls for the leaders’ deaths will be allowed unless they contain other targets or have two indicators of credibility, such as the location or method, one email said, in a recent change to the company’s rules on violence and incitement.

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The emails said calls for violence against Russians are allowed when the post is clearly talking about the invasion of Ukraine. They said the calls for violence against Russian soldiers were allowed because this was being used as a proxy for the Russian military, and said it would not apply to prisoners of war.

In a tweet, Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said the company would temporarily allow forms of “political expression” that would normally violate their terms of service, including “violent speech.” He gave the example of “death to the Russian invaders” as a phrase that could be accepted now.

“We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians,” he said.

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The temporary policy changes on calls for violence to Russian soldiers apply to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine, according to one email.

Last week, Russia said it was banning Facebook in the country in response to what it said were restrictions of access to Russian media on the platform. Moscow has cracked down on tech companies, including Twitter, which said it is restricted in the country, during its invasion of Ukraine, which it calls a “special operation.”

Many major social media platforms have announced new content restrictions around the conflict, including blocking Russian state media RT and Sputnik in Europe, and have demonstrated carve-outs in some of their policies during the war.

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.

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Meta spokesman Joe Osborne 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.”

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