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UK's Russian Embassy tweet about bombed Ukrainian hospital removed by Twitter

The tweet suggested the hospital attacked in the port city of Mariupol was ‘long non-operational’.

A woman walks outside a maternity hospital that was damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine
A woman walks outside a maternity hospital that was damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine
Image: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

TWITTER HAS REMOVED a tweet by the Russian Embassy in the UK which was branded “fake news” by the Culture Secretary.

The embassy suggested a hospital attacked by Kremlin forces in the port city of Mariupol had been “long non-operational” was being used by Ukrainian armed forces and “radicals”.

The tweet, attributed to Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, added that Moscow warned the UN Security Council about this three days ago.

Britain’s Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries retweeted the message and said: “This is fake news.”

It comes as tech platforms have had to navigate a slew of thorny issues related to the war in Ukraine.

‘Russian invaders’

Russia has criticised Facebook for temporarily easing its policy on violent speech after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, allowing statements like “death to Russian invaders” but not credible threats against civilians, the tech giant said Thursday.

The policy decision from Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta was met immediately with controversy, but the social media giant has defended its change.

“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,’” Meta said in a statement.

“We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians,” it added.

‘Violated Twitter Rules’

In the UK, the Russian embassy’s tweet was reported by the country’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and has since been removed with a note in its place saying: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules.”

Twitter said the tweet was in violation specifically of its hateful conduct and abusive behaviour policies relating to the denial of violent events.

The Russian Embassy UK account is verified with a blue tick and has more than 150,000 followers.

Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun, deputy leader of the Holos Party, said: “It’s not just some random or unknown account on Twitter. It’s an account of an official organisation, which is the embassy of the Russian Federation.

“So that is something that Twitter can follow up upon, I believe.”

embedded265770962 Screengrab from the Twitter feed of Nadine Dorries showing a tweet by the Russian Embassy in the UK which was branded ‘fake news’ Source: Nadine Dorries/Twitter

“I do think that Twitter at least should take care of the official accounts, like embassies and so on.

“Or just take them down, frankly speaking that would do the job as well, it’s easier just to take them down completely, than try to, you know, follow up on every single tweet, because they’re lying to us all the time.

“Whenever a Russian official is about to open his mouth, he is about to tell a lie.

Sovsun also pointed to photographic evidence of women being carried out of the hospital.

“You did see the picture of the pregnant women taken out of that hospital. They were there.

“They were really pregnant, they were really hurt. And we had three people at least killed, confirmed, in that attack.”

Geographic boundaries

Facebook’s statement on its new policy on violence language followed a Reuters report that said the policy applies to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine, citing the firm’s emails to its content moderators.

The firm did not reply to a request seeking confirmation of the policy’s geographic boundaries.

It has previously struggled with what it would allow people to post in moments of upheaval.

In July 2021, the firm temporarily allowed posts calling for “death to Khamenei”, referring to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during protests that rocked the country.

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Russia said Friday it was opening a criminal case against Meta for “calling for the murder” of Russians, saying the parent company of Facebook and Instagram had relaxed its rules on violent messages aimed at the Russia’s army and leaders.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said it was launching an investigation “due to illegal calls for the murder of Russian nationals by employees of the American company Meta.”

Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office also requested that the internet giant be branded “extremist” and called for Instagram to be blocked in the country. 

Facebook’s decision drew sharply contrasting views.

“The policy regards calls for violence against Russian soldiers,” said Emerson Brooking, a disinformation expert at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

“A call for violence here, by the way is also a call for resistance because Ukrainians resist a violent invasion,” he added.

But some expressed deep concerns, like Lehigh University professor Jeremy Littau who tweeted: “‘We don’t allow hate speech except against certain people from a certain country’ is one hell of a can of worms.”

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

Pressure on independent media

Russia thus joined the very 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 have also stepped up pressure against independent media, though press freedoms in the country were already rapidly waning.

Moscow blocked Facebook and restricted Twitter the same day last week that it 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.

With reporting by AFP

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