Facebook narrows moderation policy over calls for death of Vladimir Putin

Facebook owner Meta Platforms is further narrowing its content moderation policy for Ukraine to prohibit calls for the death of a head of state, according to an internal company post seen by Reuters.

The move came after Reuters reported last week that Meta was temporarily allowing some posts on Facebook and Instagram calling for the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

After the Reuters report, Meta said that a temporary change in its content policy - only applicable for Ukraine - was needed to let users voice opposition to Russia's attack. On the same day, Russia opened a criminal case against the social media firm.

Prosecutors in the country asked a court to designate the US tech giant as an "extremist organisation" after allowing the death threats.

"A criminal case has been initiated... in connection with illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation by employees of the American company Meta, which owns the social networks Facebook and Instagram," Russian authorities said.

Mega's global affairs president Nick Clegg defended the move at the time saying if it hadn't adjusted its policies then "it would now be removing content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury at the invading military forces, which would rightly be viewed as unacceptable."

But Clegg has now clarified that this doesn't include calling for Putin's assassination.

"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," Clegg wrote in a post on the company's internal platform that was seen by Reuters.

"We also do not permit calls to assassinate a head of state. So, 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 said.

Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"These are difficult decisions. Circumstances in Ukraine are fast moving. We try to think through all the consequences, and we keep our guidance under constant review because the context is always evolving," Clegg said.

There would be no change to policies on hate speech as far as the Russian people are concerned, he said.

"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 added.

Clegg wrote that Meta plans to refer the way in which it adapted the guidance it provides to content moderators to the independent oversight board, which was set up to help the platform answer some of the most difficult questions around freedom of expression.

Russia's communications regulator has already imposed a block on Instagram, and has restricted access to Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik on its platforms across the European Union.

The head of Instagram has said the block affects 80 million users. Russia has already banned Facebook in the country in response to what it said were restrictions of access to Russian media on the platform.

The message to Instagram users from the regulator Roskomnadzor described the decision to allow calls for violence against Russians as a breach of international law.

"We need to ensure the psychological health of citizens, especially children and adolescents, to protect them from harassment and insults online," it said, explaining the decision to close down the platform.

Reuters / Newshub