Facebook faces a battle for simpler content in Russia’s war against Ukraine

  • Facebook was faced with simpler decisions about moderating content related to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
  • Russia’s invasion was widely condemned and reduced confusion over how Facebook should tackle misinformation and propaganda.
  • One expert told Insider that a more one-sided investigation into the war means fewer cries of censorship.

Facebook and its parent company Meta are no strangers to criticism, including a rigorous scrutiny of how they monitor and moderate posts shared on their platform.

Content moderation on internet platforms has increasingly become a political talking point in recent months, as right-wing pundits complain that companies like Facebook are censoring conservative voices on everything from the COVID-19 pandemic to the divisive 2020 US presidential election. Meanwhile, liberals claim that social media platforms are not doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation and to tackle hate speech.

But Russia’s war on Ukraine may represent one of the easier moderation decisions Facebook has faced – and one that appears to unite party lines – thanks to the widespread condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack.

According to Ari Lightman, a Carnegie Mellon professor of digital media and social media expert, there has been more partisanship around issues like the pandemic, with many conservatives denouncing the disease and the safety measures surrounding it as overhyped and serving a liberal agenda.

“The disinformation about the pandemic or the disinformation about the election served their own specific ideology,” Lightman told Insider. “It sent them information that they thought was right and appropriate, even though it was fake. That seems very different.”

Russia’s war is much more black and white, Lightman said, which is why we won’t see as many censorship cries when Facebook cracks down on content related to the conflict.

Russia has been running a disinformation campaign to make Ukraine the aggressor in the war, rather than the other way around. As Politico reported, some state-backed Russian media outlets published stories on Facebook and other websites containing the false claims. A Russian TV newsreader even protested the war on a live broadcast.

Facebook took action by fact-checking the posts and then restricting the accounts of those outlets in Ukraine, a request that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reportedly made personally to both Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Russia claimed that Meta censors news organizations, which is why it blocked access to Facebook and Instagram within the country’s borders, and a Russian court found Meta guilty of extremist activities.

It’s part of a full-fledged censorship crackdown aimed at keeping control of the narrative surrounding the war in Russia’s hands, Lightman said.

“This is Russia’s playbook,” Lightman said. “This is how they spread disinformation. And if they can’t do it in conjunction with Facebook or one of those open channels like Twitter, they will try to do it individually through Telegram or one of those point-to-point mechanisms. “

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