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Facebook Eases Rules, Allows Violent Speech Against 'Russian Invaders'

FILE - An iPhone displays the apps for Facebook and Messenger in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019.
FILE - An iPhone displays the apps for Facebook and Messenger in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019.

Facebook said Thursday that because of the invasion of Ukraine, it has temporarily eased its rules regarding violent speech.

Moscow's internationally condemned invasion of its neighbor has provoked unprecedented sanctions from Western governments and businesses, but also a surge of online anger.

"As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as 'death to the Russian invaders,'" Facebook's parent company Meta said in a statement.

"We still won't allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians," it added.

Facebook made its statement after a Reuters report, citing the firm's emails to its content moderators, which said the policy applies to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Facebook and other U.S. tech giants have moved to penalize Russia for the attack on Ukraine, and Moscow has also moved to block access to the leading social media network as well as Twitter.

Russia thus joins the small club of countries barring the largest social network in the world, along with China and North Korea.

Since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine last month, Russian authorities also have stepped up pressure against independent media.

Blocking of Facebook and restricting of Twitter last week came the same day Moscow backed the imposition of jail terms on media publishing "false information" about the military.

In this context, Facebook had played a key information distribution role in Russia, even as it endures withering criticism in the West over matters ranging from political division to teenagers' mental health.

The war is, meanwhile, taking place during a period of unprecedented crackdown on the Russian opposition, with has included protest leaders being assassinated, jailed or forced out of the country.

Big U.S. tech firms like Apple and Microsoft have announced halting the sale of their products in Russia, while other companies have paused certain business activities or ties.

Ukrainian officials have been campaigning heavily for Russia to be cut off from everything from Netflix to Instagram.