Facebook, Apple, Twitter and YouTube under pressure because of the Russian-Ukrainian war

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A corporate Twitter account on Saturday tweeted that the service was “restricted for certain people in Russia”. A Twitter representative declined to say whether Russian authorities had given the company a reason for the shutdowns.

“We believe people should have free and open access to the internet, which is especially important in times of crisis,” the company’s public policy account tweeted.

Tech companies have long positioned themselves as beacons of free speech and democratic standards. But the war in Ukraine is testing these values ​​in new ways. From the halls of Congress to the Twitter feeds of pro-Ukrainian activists, companies are facing growing demand for a tougher line on Russia, which itself is notorious for using popular technology to influence geopolitics – most infamous during the 2016 US presidential election.

Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s digital minister, on Friday sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, asking him to stop supplying products and services, including the App Store, to Russia. Fedorov suggested such a move would motivate young Russians to “proactively stop shameful military aggression.”

“We need your support – in 2022 modern technology may be the best answer to tanks, multiple rocket launchers…and missiles,” he wrote.

He also tweeted early Saturday that he had contacted Facebook’s parent company Meta, as well as Google and Netflix, asking them to suspend services in Russia. He called on YouTube to block “propaganda” Russian channels.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called on Twitter and Meta to “take a tough stance” against Russia-related news operations. He warned that as the invasion progresses, “we can expect to see an escalation in Russia’s use of both overt and covert means to sow confusion about the conflict and promote narratives of misinformation that weakens the global response to these unlawful acts.” In a letter to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, he criticized the ability of Russian state media sites RT, Sputnik and Tass to monetize their posts through Google’s advertising service and YouTube.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, users called on their followers to report a YouTube channel with more than 22,000 subscribers that shared videos that appeared to reveal Ukrainian troop movements.

YouTube announced on Saturday that it would block certain Russian channels from monetizing their content.

“We are suspending the ability of a number of channels to monetize on YouTube, including several Russian channels affiliated with the recent sanctions,” YouTube spokesperson Farshad Shadloo said in a statement to The Post. “We will significantly limit recommendations to these channels. And in response to a government request, we have restricted access to RT and a number of other channels in Ukraine. We will continue to monitor new developments and may take further action. »

“There is a growing sense that they have a moral obligation to ensure their sites are not exploited in times of crisis,” said Karen Kornbluh, director of the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative. at the German Marshall Fund, a think tank. “The Russian playbook is clear – and companies are under pressure not to wait to act against fake accounts or malign influence activities until they are used to interfere with humanitarian aid or inflame conflict. .”

When President Biden announced sanctions against Russia on high-tech imports on Thursday, he said they would “undermine” Russia’s “ability to compete in a 21st century high-tech economy.” But the sanctions were largely focused on semiconductors and other high-tech tools that benefit Russia’s defense sector. According to a Commerce Department statement, consumer communication devices are largely exempt.

But policymakers, journalists, technologists and human rights advocates are now pressuring tech companies to act more aggressively.

Social media platforms in particular have come under scrutiny for their role in promoting Russian state media.

In a letter to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, which also owns YouTube, Warner accused the platforms of profiting from “misinformation”. He wrote that his staff discovered that YouTube was running ads on videos about the Ukrainian conflict from RT, Sputnik and Tass, all Russian state media. He also wrote that Google’s ad network supports Russian state media by running ads about Sputnik and Tass. He said ads from “unintentional” brands like Best Buy, Allbirds and Progressive were served by Google on the webpages of those outlets. Those companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Others called for RT and those affiliated with it to be banned from major social media sites, and wondered why RT’s editor was allowed to spread lies on Twitter. Twitter Labels accounts of public media organizations and their senior executives, and it does not allow public media to pay to promote tweets.

“It’s appropriate for American companies to choose sides in geopolitical disputes, and it should be an easy choice,” he added. tweeted Alex Stamos, former Facebook security chief and now director of the Stanford Internet Observatory.

On Friday, Twitter tweeted that it was “actively monitoring” risks associated with Ukraine, and it temporarily suspended ads in Russia and Ukraine to ensure ads don’t harm key security information.

Cameron Njaa, a spokesperson for Reddit, who was also named by Warner in its call for increased awareness of Russian propaganda, said the company was “extending resources” to moderators in “affected areas” and working in working closely with governments and other platforms to “stay on top of any malicious or inauthentic activity.

On Friday night, Meta announced it would ban Russian state media from running ads or monetizing its platform anywhere in the world, and said it would continue to apply fact-checking labels to posts. Russian state media. Earlier in the day, Nick Clegg, head of global affairs at Meta, tweeted that Russian authorities restricted the use of the company’s services after Facebook tagged and verified posts from four state-owned media outlets. Clegg said Russian authorities ordered the company to stop fact-checking and labeling, but it refused.

“Ordinary Russians use Meta’s apps to express themselves and organize for action,” Clegg tweeted. “We want them to continue to raise their voices, share what’s happening and organize through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.”

In a message posted the same day on Telegram, the Russian authorities confirmed that they had taken measures to partially restrict access to Facebook, in the form of a slowdown in traffic to the site. The censor accused the company of restricting access to four Russian media outlets.

Alphabet, TikTok and Telegram did not respond to requests for comment.

Tech companies have previously bowed to pressure from Russia’s internet censor. In September, Apple and Google removed an opposition voting app from their app stores at the start of voting in the country’s parliamentary elections, after Russia’s censorship agency accused the companies of interfering in the political affairs of the country. The agency threatened fines and possible criminal prosecution.

Internet freedom advocates have warned that technology platforms are a critical source of independent information for people in Russia and that limiting access to these platforms could leave people with only state propaganda that incites war with Ukraine.

Big tech companies have a responsibility to their Ukrainian and Russian users to respect their rights to freedom of expression and access to information, especially in times of war and political crisis,” said Natalia Krapiva , technology counsel at Access Now, a nonprofit that advocates for internet freedom.

But she said tech companies still need to take precautions to ensure their platforms aren’t abused.

“However, they also have a responsibility to keep their users safe and to identify and respond to any misinformation campaigns that may lead to violence and abuse,” she said.

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