Policy recommendations to Facebook during times of war

In today’s digital world, it is an undeniable fact that social media has become a vital platform to carry out public and propagandist activities. Its use has even sometimes harmed communities through misinformation and fake news. With the plethora of information out there on Facebook, it’s hard for people to filter real and fake news. Platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp and YouTube form the major part of people’s lives in today’s world and more so in crucial times like war. Although major social media platforms have suspended their services in Russia, the negative consequences of social media have not been curbed fully.

Social Media and War

The use of social media is increasingly becoming a new weapon in modern warfare. It is impacting military and civilian lives, leaking wrong information and spreading rumors. When Facebook and Twitter continue playing violent videos of the war, it adds more anxiety in the lives of people actually facing the war. The Russia- Ukraine war is not the first social- media war but definitely the most seen on digital platforms. The use of media by Russians to interfere with 2016 US elections is a debated fact. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has played a role in revealing the power Facebook has in influencing global opinion.

Facebook and Russia-Ukraine War

This is not the first time that Facebook’s policy has come into question. Facebook has already paid billions in 2019 for ethical issues concerning the spread of hate speech, violence and internally leaked messages. Since then, they have modified some of their policies but it has not made enough shifts to control its negative impact during high conflict situations. When the Russia-Ukraine war accelerated, Facebook failed to prioritize Ukrainian users facing Humanitarian threats and escalated the war by allowing death threats against Putin on the platform temporarily.

Facebook: Is it war originator?

Facebook, changed its name to Meta in order to avoid controversies and policies surrounding the app. But, with its giant role played in the Russia-Ukraine war, the app is getting back into the spotlight – yet again for its controversial policy. According to Reuters Meta platforms allowed hate speeches against Russia in these circumstances: ‘(a) targeting Russian soldiers, EXCEPT prisoners of war, or (b) targeting Russians where it’s clear that the context is the Russian invasion of Ukraine (e.g., content containing mentions of invasion, self-defense, etc.).’ These kinds of posts would promote propagandist attitudes in public rather than helping Ukrainians.

Increased Conflict

‘Facebook failed to label 80% of articles on its platform promoting a fast-spreading conspiracy theory that the US is funding the use of bioweapons in Ukraine,’ says The Guardian. The facebook algorithm is observed as one promoting misinformation and keeping the actual facts harder to find.

While the arguments on the platform increase, engagement on the platform also increases. Hence, the platform makes money while giving rise to another “Internet War.” War is escalated as people are actually fighting two battles: one on the battlefield and another on social media – posting and commenting hatred for both sides.

Another biased action taken by Facebook during war includes making an exception to its Hate Speech policy and calling upon violent actions on the Russian and Belarusian President. Though many platforms banned their services in Russia, Meta’s acceleration of violent speech like “Death to the Russian invaders” – which under normal circumstances would break its policy rules was temporarily accepted on the platform.

Defense offered by Facebook:

Facebook defended it’s actions claiming that they wanted to create an exception for war victims to ‘express violent sentiments toward invading armed forces.’ Little was done to take down violent and hate comments from the media. BBC news reporter said that “​​Under the amended policy, users in countries including Russia, Ukraine and Poland will also be able to call for the deaths of Russia’s President Putin and Belarusian President Lukashenko.” Facebook also led to the misinformation on bioweapons being used by Ukraine as a means to fight Russian forces. This claim was dismissed by White House stating that this might be a rumor spread by Moscow to encourage war. Facebook’s carelessness with handling sensitive data led millions of people posting hate comments and the platform generating money during war time..

Under normal circumstances, hate content would have been condemned. But during the war, Meta platforms temporarily allowed posts of hate speeches against “Russian invaders”. Its main objective was to target the Russian and Belarusian leaders. This biased policy came to the notice of the Russian Embassy and notable world leaders who sometimes defended the tech giant. In a war where many countries are following non alignment to avoid escalating the situation, Facebook has not only clearly aligned with Ukraine but has also sided against Russia, possibly even escalated the war situation.

Policy Recommendations

Facebook must work its algorithm to make sure that authenticated information is shared on the platform rather than inaccurate information. It must not relax anti-hate speech policies under any circumstances. Facebook must tighten its policy on fake accounts, mobilization groups and propagandists groups which promote any “ extremists” activities towards the world.

Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who covers international relations, defence, diplomacy and social issues. Her current focus is on India-China relations.