Unjustified Takedown of Facebook Accounts Critical of Russia Threatens Free Expression
Amid an ever-growing trend of Russian internet censorship, PEN American Center and PEN Ukraine are gravely concerned by reports that Facebook has removed content and deactivated or suspended accounts of Ukrainian and Russian users critical of the Putin regime.
Journalists, activists, bloggers, and artists from the region have signed
PEN is disturbed by the details of the content removals and bans. “PEN American stands by the right of Ukrainians and Russians to freely express their views on any medium, ” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN’s Free Expression Programs. “As a platform for free speech and political organization, Facebook is an asset to activists; when permissible content is removed for political reasons, free expression rights are jeopardized.”
Many affected public figures and vocal critics of the Kremlin point to Russia as the source of the phony flagging. Russia has set a precedent for politically motivated content removal: in 2014, the Russian government
Reviewing potential breaches of standards is an arduous task, but one in which the potential for error should be minimized. PEN American Center recognizes Facebook’s good-faith efforts to encourage respectful behavior and remove abusive content, as well as initial steps to make its takedown processes somewhat more transparent, particularly when content removal requests are initiated by governments. But Facebook should be better equipped to identify and handle obvious politically-motivated takedown attempts such as the ones affecting hundreds of commentators critical of the Russian regime.
Politically-motivated content removal is an abuse by individual actors of Facebook’s mechanisms for upholding community standards. PEN American Center urges the actors triggering takedowns to end their attempts to unjustly stifle free speech, and calls on Facebook to restore permissible content in a timely manner, to strengthen the current systems in place to ensure that content is not mistakenly blocked, and to strive towards greater transparency regarding their internal quality control systems for content moderation. All persons have the right to express themselves freely through digital media, and this right should be restored for the affected users of Facebook