According to one expert, Facebook and Twitter are enforcing Russian government propaganda and disinformation on social media at a “slow pace.”
After Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9, the Russian embassy in the UK tweeted photos of the blast with the word “FAKE” over them, implying that the hospital was only occupied by military personnel.
Marianna Podgurskaya, a Ukrainian blogger, was also targeted by the embassy, who claimed she “played” the role of a pregnant woman with “very realistic make-up” that looked like blood.
The embassy tweeted, “It’s the indeed pregnant [Ukraine] beauty blogger Marianna Podgurskaya.” “She appeared in the photos as both a pregnant woman and a non-pregnant woman.” According to the report, the posts were removed from Twitter only after government officials in the United Kingdom expressed outrage.
This is a prime example of social media companies moving at a “slow speed” to combat propaganda coming from Russian government accounts, according to Emerson Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
“What has most concerned me is the slow pace of enforcement in cases where Russia is clearly using its government presence or continuing to maintain the existence of government accounts to spread disinformation,” Brooking said. “In the case of the Russian embassy that was personally maligning a bomb victim in Mariupol, claiming that this woman was a crisis actor and was an outrageous, personally directed attack and the attack lasted for several hours on Twitter before it was removed and got significant shares.”
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Facebook and Twitter have taken a number of actions aimed at the Russian government, as well as some aimed at keeping people informed.
According to Twitter, advertisements were suspended in Russia and Ukraine on February 25 in order to ensure that “critical public safety information is elevated and ads do not detract from it.”
A Twitter spokesperson pointed to a blog post outlining the company’s approach to the Ukraine conflict, which includes de-amplifying content that isn’t associated with a risk of immediate harm but could be misinterpreted if taken out of context. The blog post states that if a tweet violates the Twitter rules, action will be taken against it. Meta announced a day after Twitter that it is prohibiting Russian state media from “running ads or monetizing on our platform anywhere in the world.” Meta also announced the creation of a “Special Operations Center” that will be able to respond in real time.
On February 28, Meta announced that it would restrict access to RT and Sputnik across the European Union.
However, according to Brookings, there is a distinction to be made between that type of content and press releases or government statements shared on Russian government accounts.
“I want to distinguish that type of content from press releases, government statements, and other things that are commonly released through these channels,” Brooking said. “I believe that type of content should continue to circulate in the digital space, even if we find it despicable.”
According to Brooking, social media companies are constantly fighting to maintain balance.
“It’s always a balancing act for these businesses. And if Russia continues to use its official voices to launch such personal and vile attacks, I believe their access to these platforms should be revoked completely,” Brooking remarked.