How Social Platforms Are Responding to the Crisis in Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused global angst, putting the military superpowers of the world at odds once again, and potentially forcing an intervention that could lead to one of the biggest conflicts in decades.
And unlike similar incidents in times past, this battle is playing out in the age of social media, with memes, misinformation campaigns and scams all adding to the growing maelstrom of information, which can confuse, contort and cloud what’s actually happening in the eastern European region.
Given this, and the role that social media now plays in the dissemination of information, the platforms need to work fast to limit any misuse of their networks for questionable purpose, and many have already enacted plans to mitigate certain elements of misuse and misinformation.
Here’s a look at what’s been announced thus far from the major social apps.
Facebook is at the center of the social media information flow within the conflict zone, with around 70 million users in Russia, and 24 million in Ukraine, approximately half of the total population of each respective nation.
Late last week, the Russian Government announced that it would restrict access to Facebook due to Meta’s refusal to remove misinformation warning labels on posts from state-affiliated media. Now, Meta has taken that action a step further, by also prohibiting ads from Russian state media, and demonetizing these accounts, severely limiting the capacity for Russian authorities to use Facebook as an information vector.
Russia, of course, does have its own social media platforms and messaging tools, so there are other ways for the Kremlin to communicate their activities and motivations to Russian citizens. But Meta has taken a strong stance, while it’s also restricted access to many accounts within Ukraine, including those belonging to Russian state media organizations.
In addition to this, Meta has also established a special operations center, staffed by native Russian and Ukrainian speakers, to monitor for harmful content trends, while it’s also added new warning labels when users go to share war-related images that its systems detect are over one year old.
Meta’s also outlined a range of safety features for users in Ukraine, “including the ability for people to lock their Facebook profile, removing the ability to view and search friends lists, and additional tools on Messenger”.
Thus far, Meta seems to be staying ahead of major misinformation trends in the conflict, though the amount of posts from spammers and scammers seeking to capitalize on the situation for engagement is significant.
UPDATE (2/28): Meta has also announced that it will restrict access to content from Russian state-affiliated media outlets RT and Sputnik in response to requests from EU officials.
UPDATE: (3/1): Facebook says that it is now demoting content from Facebook Pages and Instagram accounts representing Russian state-controlled media outlets, while it’s also adding new labels which will appear when users tap on links to these outlets.

Meta has also announced that it’s making encrypted chats on Instagram available to all adults in Ukraine and Russia. Instagram has been working on encrypted messages within IG Direct for some time, as part of its broader messaging integration plan, but this is the first time that it’s gone live for users.
UPDATE (3/4) Meta has now also blocked Russian state media providers RT and Sputnik for all users in the UK, following a request from UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries. Dorries called for restrictions on these outlets due to them spreading ‘damaging propaganda into Britain’.
UPDATE (3/4): Meta announced that it will no longer let any advertisers in Russia create or run ads anywhere in the world.
UPDATE (3/5): Russia’s communications regulator has announced that the country will move to block Facebook access entirely, in response to Meta’s restriction of Russian state media outlets. It’s not clear, at this stage, whether Instagram and WhatsApp will also be included in this action.
UPDATE (3/9): Meta has announced that it’s now downranking posts from Russian state-controlled media on Instagram, both in the main feed and in the Stories tray.
Instagram will also hide information about who users in Ukraine and Russia are following when they choose to use private accounts, in order to further protect people’s privacy, while it’s added new alerts on Stories that share links to Russian state media websites.

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