Social Platforms Respond to The Crisis in Ukraine
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has sparked international concern, reuniting the world's military superpowers and potentially triggering an intervention that might result in one of the world's most significant conflicts in decades.
This war is taking place in the age of social media, with memes, disinformation campaigns, and scams all contributing to the expanding whirlwind of information that can mislead, twist, and cloud what's going on in Eastern Europe.
Given this and social media's role in information transmission, platforms must act quickly to prevent any misuse of their networks for nefarious purposes. Several have already implemented measures to address specific aspects of abuse and disinformation.
Here's a rundown of what's been announced so far by the major social media platforms.
With nearly 70 million users in Russia and 24 million in Ukraine, Facebook is at the heart of the social media information flow within the conflict zone, accounting for roughly half of each country's entire population. Due to Meta's reluctance to remove false warning labels on postings from state-affiliated media, the Russian government declared late last week that it would block access to Facebook. Now, Meta has gone a step further by banning ads from Russian state media and demonetizing these accounts, substantially limiting Russian authorities' ability to utilize Facebook as a source of information.
Russia has its social media platforms and communications tools so that the Kremlin can communicate its activities and objectives to Russian citizens in different ways. However, Meta has taken a firm stance, restricting access to several accounts in Ukraine, including those belonging to Russian official media outlets. In addition, Meta has built a dedicated operations center, manned by native Russian and Ukrainian speakers, to monitor for hazardous content trends and additional warning labels for users who want to share war-related photos that are more than a year old, as detected by its systems.
Meta's also listed several security improvements for Ukrainian users, including the opportunity for people to hide their Facebook profile, the removal of the ability to browse and search friends lists, and more Messenger capabilities. Despite a large number of postings from spammers and fraudsters looking to take advantage of the situation for interaction, Meta appears to be staying ahead of crucial misinformation tendencies in the fight so far.
Google-owned YouTube has stated that it is restricting access to Russian state-owned media sources for viewers in Ukraine and suspending monetization for many Russian channels at the request of the Ukrainian government.
Russian state-owned channels are also being removed from YouTube's recommendations and having their uploads' reach limited across the network. As a result, Russia's federal communications authority has ordered that YouTube access to Russian media channels be restored on Ukrainian territory. The issue is identical to that of Facebook, and YouTube may face similar restrictions in Russia.
As quoted by Youtube (via The Wall Street Journal):
“As always, our teams are continuing to monitor closely for news developments, including evaluating what any new sanctions and export controls may mean for YouTube.”
Twitter has imposed a temporary ban on all adverts in Ukraine and Russia to ensure essential public safety information gets elevated and ads don't detract from it to help maintain the best possible flow of information for users in the affected region.
Twitter outlawed political advertisements, including those from state-owned media, in 2019, so it's already ahead of the curve in this regard. The ad restriction will help clarify information flow via tweets, and Twitter also states that it is proactively evaluating Tweets to detect platform manipulation and taking enforcement action against synthetic and manipulated material that gives a false or misleading depiction of what's going on.
TikTok is a crucial platform to watch right now, with reports that Russian-affiliated groups are using the app to spread 'orchestrated disinformation.' At the same time, thousands of related videos, many of which are fake, are being uploaded to the platform, causing significant headaches for TikTok's moderation teams.
The addition of monetization incentives for popular clips has given bad actors a new incentive to create fake streams and broadcasts in the app to attract viewers, while reports suggest that Ukrainian TikTok users are using the app to communicate Russian troop locations to Ukrainian fighters.
TikTok has yet to officially state the violence or how its platform is being exploited. Given that China-based Bytedance owns TikTok, and China has (to some extent) backed Russia's actions in the region, it is unlikely to take a forceful stance. But, given how the platform is being utilized, some dub this the "TikTok War." It could compel TikTok to take more decisive action, and it'll be fascinating to see whether and how it does so in keeping with its ties to the CCP.
The crisis is a significant concern for the entire world, but especially for the people of Ukraine, and our sympathies are with those who have been directly affected by the fighting and their families. Hopefully, there's still hope for a peaceful ending.