Members of the Ukrainian community in Ireland have issued tech giants Facebook and Google with letters asking them to block propaganda from Russia on their platforms.
The letters, from the Ministry of Digital Information of Ukraine, are addressed to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and signed by Ukraine’s deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Federov.
A group protested at the Dublin headquarters of Meta and Google this morning to voice their concerns over propaganda and disinformation following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia last week.
“We're here today to ask for measures to be taken against Russian propaganda because the war starts in the mind and then it spills into physical action. Unfortunately, Russia has been doing incredibly large-scale warmongering,” said Artem Nedostup, who is from the south east of Ukraine.
“We believe this is unacceptable and the platforms have enabled Russia to do so. So we are asking them to remediate that.”
“Currently, Facebook has already identified what is Russian state sponsored propaganda, so they already have labels on it saying it is Russian state sponsored content, but this is not enough.”
“We are asking for them to remove Russian state sponsored propaganda, worldwide. I know Facebook and Google have already taken steps to do that in the EU, which is great, but it should be worldwide.”
Mr Nedostup also asked that the media companies allow people to comment on online material so they can call-out propaganda and express an alternative opinion.
He also asked for action on fake accounts.
Mr Nedostup said his families town has been bombed and occupied by Russians.
“My parents are on the outskirts of the town. They have a small farm, a few animals like ducks and chickens. And they have a garden and a land plot where they grow food like potatoes and vegetables, things like that,” he explained.
And then usually in Ukraine people can vegetables for the winter, so you have big cans of tomatoes stored in a vault underground. Now thay have changed them from vegetable stores to bomb shelters,” he said.
Alex Pishcheiko was also protesting this morning.
“We are here to ask the social media companies to stop Russian propaganda and ban the media that is sponsored by Russian state because they're spreading disinformation,” she said.
“Russian people already know their media is state sponsored and they're probably happy with it., but we believe it's very important that people know the truth. They can stop their dictator,” she said.
“My family is in Kyiv, and it's crazy. They don't want to go to the bomb shelter anymore because they are just tired of going back and forth. And they are staying in their apartment and it's just really horrible.”
“I'm trying to convince them to go to the shelter, to run away, but they just don't want to leave their home. It's crazy because I'm helpless. I can do nothing. They obviously try to convince me they are fine, but I know they are not. And it's hard,” she added.
A group of campaigners called Uplift were also at the protests at Meta and Google this morning supporting the Ukrainian community.
“Uplift is here to back the call from Ukrainians in Ireland to call on Facebook and Google to remove all Russian state backed accounts from their platforms,” said Layla Wade.
“Russian disinformation and this web of influence that they have has been allowed to grow for years. We've seen narratives of disinformation attacks for years, and social media companies have not only aided the Kremlin backed propaganda and lies, they have also profited from it in a large amount of cases.”
“We know that there needs to be a worldwide removal of these accounts. It's a core step to protecting not only the people in Ukraine, but also our democracies worldwide as well,” she added.
A spokesperson for Google said that over the past 12 months alone it issued hundreds of government-backed attack warnings to people in Ukraine using products like Gmail. “We’ve been particularly vigilant during the invasion and our products will continue to automatically detect and block suspicious activity,” they said.
“In this extraordinary crisis we are taking extraordinary measures to stop the spread of misinformation and disrupt disinformation campaigns online.”
They said they have blocked YouTube channels connected to Russian state-funded media outlets RT and Sputnik across Europe, and significantly limited recommendations globally for a number of Russian state-funded media outlets across its platforms.
“In the past few days, YouTube has removed hundreds of channels and thousands of videos for violating its Community Guidelines, including a number of channels engaging in coordinated deceptive practices.”
“We are working to not just reduce the reach of unreliable information, but also to make reliable and trustworthy information readily available.
In response Meta said they were “demoting content from Facebook pages and Instagram accounts from Russian state-controlled media outlets, and we are making them harder to find across our platforms”.
“We have also begun to demote posts that contain links to Russian state-controlled media websites on Facebook globally,” Meta said, adding that it was blocking access to RT and Sputnik and also blocking access to several accounts in Ukraine, including those belonging to some Russian state media organisations.