A new article on Social Media Today reports that 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.
Meta 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.
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.
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 in 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.
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’
Later, Meta announced that it will no longer let any advertisers in Russia create or run ads anywhere in the world. 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.
Then, Meta 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.
Meta has announced that it’s updating its Community Help resources to ensure Ukrainians, and others in the region, can find reliable information from local UN agencies and Red Cross societies. Meta will also display a link to Community Help at the top of people’s Facebook and Instagram feeds for people in Ukraine, or for those who have left recently for neighboring countries.
Meta has also added new links to mental health resources, while it’s also sharing datasets with relevant authorities and research groups to assist in support activities, including real-time mobility data for countries bordering Ukraine to help predict refugee flows.
Meta also says that, since February 23rd, people on Facebook and Instagram have raised more than $30 million for nonprofits supporting humanitarian relief in Ukraine. As of October 3rd, Meta says that it will temporarily allow some political posts that would normally violate platform rules on Facebook and Instagram to be posted in the region in order to facilitate discussion around the Russian attack.
On March 16th, Meta said that it has removed a deepfake video which shows Ukrainian President Zelensky issuing a statement that he never did. It’s the first reports of deepfake content being used in this context. The following day, Meta launched a new ’emergency relief’ feature for Facebook Groups which enables group admins to give their members access to anonymous posts, information guides, file uploads, Q&A tools, as well as the capacity to offer assistance or request help through Community Help, and raise money through nonprofit fundraisers.
At the request of the Ukrainian Government, Google-owned YouTube has announced that it’s restricting access to Russian state-owned media outlets for users in Ukraine, while it’s also suspending monetization for several Russian channels. YouTube’s also removing Russian state-owned channels from recommendations, and limiting the reach of their uploads across the platform.
On March 1st, YouTube said it’s now moving to block all channels connected to Russian state-backed media outlets for all European regions. A week and a half later, YouTube announced that it’s now blocking access to Russian state-funded media globally, expanding on its EU ban. YouTube will also now remove content that ‘denies, minimizes or trivializes’ Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while it’s also paused all monetization tools for Russian users.
On March 3rd, Google stopped selling all ads in Russia, including those within search listings, ads on YouTube, and ad placements on third-party publishing partners. Google initially banned Russian state-funded media from buying or selling ads via its platforms, while it also invoked its ‘sensitive events’ policy, which bans marketing that seeks to take advantage of an evolving, sensitive situation. Google’s move to ban all ads entirely comes in response to Russia’s communications regulator ordering Google to stop showing YouTube ads with ‘false political information’ about Ukraine.
On the 17th, Google announced that it would match up to $5 million in donations to Ukrainian support programs throughout April. Google says that Google.org and Google employees have already committed over $25 million in donations and in-kind support.
As it looks to help ensure optimal flow of information for users within the impacted region, Twitter has announced a temporary ban on all ads in Ukraine and Russia “to ensure critical public safety information is elevated and ads don’t detract from it”.
Twitter banned political ads, including those from state-affiliated media, back in 2019, so it’s already ahead of the curve in this respect. The ban on all ads will help to clarify information flow via tweets, while Twitter additionally notes that it’s proactively reviewing Tweets to detect platform manipulation, and taking enforcement action against synthetic and manipulated media that presents a false or misleading depiction of what’s happening.
Back on February 28th, Twitter also added labels to Tweets that share links to Russian state-affiliated media websites, while it’s also reducing the circulation of this content by removing it from recommendations, downranking it in algorithm-defined timelines, and more. On March 5th, Russian authorities blocked Twitter access for local users. Twitter said that it detected and removed around 100 accounts that had been using the pro-Russia hashtag #IStandWithPutin under its coordinated inauthentic behavior policy.
By the 9th, Twitter had implemented an official Tor onion service to help Russian users maintain usage of the platform, despite restrictions enacted by the Russian Government. A couple of days later, Twitter began to label accounts and Tweets sharing links to state-affiliated media outlets in Belarus after discovering additional connections between Russian state media messaging and Belarusian Government accounts.
On the 16th, Twitter said it would now also label accounts and Tweets sharing links to state-affiliated media outlets in Ukraine. Twitter says that it’s labeled more than 61,000 unique Tweets sharing state-affiliated media since the beginning of the invasion, which has contributed to a 30% reduction in the reach of this content.
A key platform to watch right now is TikTok, with reports that Russian-affiliated groups are using the app to spread ‘orchestrated disinformation’, while thousands of related videos are being uploaded to the platform, many fake, causing significant headaches for TikTok’s moderation teams.
The introduction of monetization incentives for popular clips has also added new motivation for bad actors to create fake streams and broadcasts in the app, in a bid to lure viewers, on the other side, reports have also suggested that Ukrainian TikTok users are using the app to communicate Russian troop locations to Ukrainian fighters.
On February 28th, TikTok geo-blocked content from Russian state-affiliated media outlets for users in the EU. Those outside the EU can still access this content. By March 4th, TikTok said that it would label content from state-affiliated media in the app, as part of its broader effort to address concerns about misinformation.
On the 7th, TikTok said that, due to Russia’s new ‘fake news law, which could see local representatives or creators face prison time if the platform publishes or hosts any content that the Kremlin deems to be misinformation about the invasion of Ukraine, it would no longer allow Russian users to upload new clips of live-stream in the app
A few days later, an investigation by VICE News found that the Russian Government had seemingly been paying TikTok influencers to post pro-Russia content, directing the users on “what to say, where to capture videos, what hashtags to use, and when exactly to post the video”. At the same time, the US Government has been meeting with TikTok influencers to brief them on the latest news about the invasion of Ukraine, as a means to help spread accurate information among younger audiences.
By the 18th, TikTok had committed $5 million in donations to support humanitarian organizations working in Ukraine.
Reddit has ‘quarantined’ the r/Russia subreddit due to ongoing issues with misinformation being shared in the group. Quarantined subreddits don’t show up in searches or recommendations, while any user that does come across a quarantined community is shown a warning alert.
On March 2nd, Reddit also banned all links to Russian state media outlets and their foreign language affiliates across the app.
Snapchat has halted all ads running in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine in order to facilitate better information flow within the impacted region, while it’s also pausing ad sales to all Russian and Belarusian entities. Snap also doesn’t accept ads from Russian state-owned entities, nor does it display state-affiliated media in its app.
Snap has also pledged over $15 million in humanitarian aid to support organizations in the region, while it’s also working to help get its staff out of the impacted area. Ukraine is the home of Looksery, which Snap acquired back in 2015 as the foundational platform for its AR Lenses.
On March 4th, as a safety precaution to protect Ukrainian citizens, Snapchat temporarily turned off the Snap Map ‘heatmap’ feature for Ukraine, which shows how many snaps have been created in particular locations.
Early in March, Pinterest announced it was donating $250,000 to the International Rescue Committee to support refugees and provide aid to crisis-affected families.
Pinterest has also launched a special donation Pin to prompt more Pinners to donate to the IRC, while it’s working to detect and remove misinformation across its platform. Pinterest doesn’t offer advertising in Russia.