The social networks Facebook and Instagram, both of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg’s company, will allow users from some countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine) to spread messages of hate and incitement to violence against Russian soldiers, provided that are not prisoners, in the context of the invasion of Ukraine, as reported by the Reuters agency from emails to which the international agency has had access. The messages may include, according to the same information, death wishes for Vladimir Putin or for the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko.
The company has modified its policy on hate speech during this stage of the war, according to internal emails sent by Meta to content moderators: “As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have temporarily allowed forms of political expression that would normally disrupt our rules, such as violent speech or ‘death to the Russian invaders’. They will not be allowed if the messages against Putin and Lukashenko include other targets.
Russia has condemned this change in the policy of the messaging network and has demanded that the United States “stop the extremist activities of Meta”. According to a message from the Russian authorities broadcast on Twitter, the social network of the competition: “Facebook and Instagram users did not give the owners of these platforms the right to determine the criteria of truth and pit nations against each other.” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin, has stated that this action by Meta will mean adopting “the most decisive measure to end the activities of this company”, referring to the intentions to ban these platforms in Russia. In this sense, the Russian Prosecutor’s Office has requested that Meta be declared an “extremist”, which would mean blocking the platforms of this company, including WhatsApp, and would allow its employees to be tried.
This confrontation is a further escalation in the war on the networks, which has already limited Facebook and Twitter in Russia in an attempt to control the story of the invasion of Ukraine, which the Putin government tries to reduce to a “special operation” . On the part of the European Union, blocked access to media financed by the Kremlin like RT and Sputnik.
Rafael Rodriguez Prietoprofessor of Philosophy of Law and Politics at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville, considers that “all powers work with disinformation techniques that have the Internet as their battlefield”
In this sense, although he recognizes that social networks have some virtues, they can also be “a factor of disinformation, destabilization and limitation of the debate from the point of view of democratic deliberation.”
Given the restrictions imposed by the EU on the Russian media, Rodríguez Prieto warns of their limited effectiveness: “You can limit the propaganda effect of a television that is considered to be clearly linked to a certain State or a certain Government, but it is more difficult limit the degree of propaganda that can be disseminated in other ways and by other means”.
Regarding the influence of the networks, he believes that Putin was the first to use them as a destabilizing element: “We have had it here. Putin was a destabilizing factor in Spain with the support of the separatists in Catalonia through very different means, which were not the traditional mechanism of a television, a newspaper or a radio, but in a way that, now, in today’s world, can be much more efficient, through the internet”.
“As important as the forces of direct action”, concludes Rodríguez Prieto, “is the story that is being imposed. When freedom of expression and freedom of information decline, what we are left with is propaganda, and propaganda is something that is very good for power to impose its narrative, but very negative for democracy.”