scorecardFacebook is reversing its ban on posts praising Ukraine's far-right Azov Battalion, report says
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Facebook is reversing its ban on posts praising Ukraine's far-right Azov Battalion, report says

Urooba Jamal   

Facebook is reversing its ban on posts praising Ukraine's far-right Azov Battalion, report says
Tech2 min read
  • Facebook is backtracking on its ban on praise for Ukraine's far-right armed forces.
  • Posts praising their role in defending Ukraine or being in Ukraine's National Guard will be allowed.

Facebook is backtracking on a ban it placed on users praising the Azov Battalion, a far-right paramilitary force within the Ukrainian National Guard.

The Intercept first reported the news.

Praise for the group, which is the armed wing of the country's white nationalist Azov movement, was banned in 2019 under Facebook's Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy. The platform had classified the group alongside others such as the Ku Klux Klan and Islamic State.

A 2016 report by the OHCHR found that Azov soldiers had raped and tortured civilians during the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The memos seen by The Intercept, however, also acknowledge the group's ideology, and listed the following post as an example of unacceptable content, according to the outlet: "Well done Azov for protecting Ukraine and it's white nationalist heritage."

The battalion itself will still be banned from using Facebook to publish posts or recruit members, while images of its uniform and banners will still be banned as hate symbols.

"For the time being, we are making a narrow exception for praise of the Azov Regiment strictly in the context of defending Ukraine, or in their role as part of the Ukraine National Guard," a spokesperson from Facebook's parent company, Meta, told Insider.

"But we are continuing to ban all hate speech, hate symbolism, praise of violence, generic praise, support, or representation of the Azov Regiment, and any other content that violates our community standards," it added.

The spokesperson explained that the decision would allow Facebook users to obtain information about the forces' military activity, including their safety, whereabouts. and the severity of their military operations.

The policy shift has also been set in place to ensure that news coverage of the conflict can continue to be shared on the platform, the spokesperson said.

The paramilitary forces began as a volunteer anti-Russia militia who joined the Ukrainian National Guard in 2014. They garnered support from many Ukrainians when, that year, they fought Russia's army and separatist proxy forces from taking Mariupol, an eastern port city, BuzzFeed reported.

The group, which boasts thousands of members alongside hundreds of armed fighters, is overt about its ideology.

In 2010, Andriy Biletsky, its first commander who was also a former parliamentarian, said Ukraine is meant to "lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen (subhumans)", The Guardian reported in 2018.

Some of its soldiers also wear symbols of the Third Reich and have forged links with the alt-right and neo-Nazis in the US.

Content moderation expert Dia Kayyali told The Intercept that Facebook's move was "nonsensical."

She said: "Their assessments of what is a dangerous organization should always be contextual; there shouldn't be some special carveout for a group that would otherwise fit the policy just because of a specific moment in time."

The policy shift is part of Meta's broader response to monitor content on Facebook since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine this week. This involves the creation of a special team to deal with hate speech and misinformation.