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How Facebook is helping with Ukraine relief while navigating free-speech minefield in Russia

March 29, 2022, 10:58 am

Social media companies are scrambling to rewrite rules and add tools for relief efforts during the ongoing invasion of Democratic Ukraine by neighboring and authoritarian Russia.

And U.S. Facebook groups ranging from the hyper-local to long-established national communities formed after Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 are springing up to gather needed supplies and help millions of refugees.

After Meta’s Facebook and Instagram went against the company’s own hate-speech ban and allowed users in some countries to call for violence against Russian soldiers earlier this month, a Russian court banned both platforms as extremist.

But in Colorado and across the United States, Facebook and other social media platforms are being used to bring people around the world together with Ukrainian expats to organize rallies of supports and gather funding and materials for the inspired defense of Ukraine against alleged Russian genocide.

Eagle County for Ukraine was formed locally to collect donations and gather medical supplies, clothing, food and more, with a group organizer even traveling to Ukraine to deliver desperately-needed relief.

Ukrainians of Colorado, a statewide Facebook group, has been a good source of events around the state in support of Ukrainian defense efforts. Nationally, United Help Ukraine is a group founded in the wake of the initial 2014 invasion of Crimea soon after the Sochi Winter Olympics.

That was when Russian President Vladimir Putin, flush with the success of his exorbitantly expensive Winter Games, rolled into eastern Ukraine using proxy troops and then annexed Crimea. Ukraine has been at war with Russia in the Donbass ever since.

From a Colorado standpoint, RealVail.com has long rejected Russian aggression, opposing both Putin’s Olympics and his subsequent invasion.

In an area of the world dependent on winter tourism and a healthy environment, Vail snow-sports fans should be leery of the increased politicization of the Olympics and the coziness of the International Olympic Committee with “dictators [who] can organize [big] events … without asking the people’s permission,” as former FIS president Gian Franco Kasper said.

During last month’s 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Putin was reportedly asked by China’s President Xi Jinping to delay his full-scale invasion of Ukraine until after the Games – an ominous sign of cooperation between the two authoritarian nuclear powers vying for more territory and global power.

Big Tech companies and their social media platforms intent on their own global expansion will have to navigate an increasingly fraught world of free-speech crackdowns and concerns centered on the high stakes battle for individual freedom of expression.

As it relates to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in particular, RealVail.com asked Facebook officials how the platform is handling the invasion on several fronts, last week receiving these replies via email from Emily Dalton Smith, Vice President of Social Impact at Meta:

RV: How is FB helping Ukrainian expat groups connect around the world to help their families back home?

EDS: Since this war began, more than 3 million people have joined support groups on Facebook created to express solidarity with the Ukrainian people, including local communities that are providing humanitarian aid, accommodation, legal advice or medical aid, among other forms of assistance. Also, since then, more than 10 million people have used the Ukrainian flag profile frame on Facebook.

RV: How is FB shutting down Russian disinformation around the world and here in the U.S.?

EDS: To combat misinformation from Russia, we have expanded our third-party fact-checking capacity in Russia and Ukraine including increased monitoring for signs of inauthentic behavior, removing content that violates our Community Standards. To help people understand where information is coming from, we’ve added warning labels on content rated false, and applied labels to state-controlled media publishers. Additionally, we’re providing more transparency around state-controlled media outlets and banning ads from Russian state media. 

RV: How much money has been raised through Facebook fundraising efforts?

EDS: Since February 23, people on Facebook and Instagram have donated more than $40 million for nonprofits in support of humanitarian efforts for Ukraine. This is the generosity of more than 970,000 donors benefitting more than 2,500 nonprofits. We know every dollar counts, so we charge no fees for nonprofit fundraisers created on Facebook and Instagram. The money raised goes directly to the organization being supported.

Additionally, Meta is donating $15 million in direct donations and ad credits to support organizations responding to the Ukraine crisis. This commitment includes more than $5 million in cash support to nonprofits managing the short- and long-term humanitarian response on the ground, such as emergency medical assistance, trauma care and shelter support for those in Ukraine and neighboring countries.

RV: Can you touch on some of the tools created to help people keep safe in Ukraine?

EDS: We’ve been working hard to keep people in Ukraine and Russia safe with added safety features. People are able to lock their Facebook profile which removes the ability to view and search friends lists. In Ukraine, we increased tools available to Messenger like notifications for screenshots of disappearing messages in our end-to-end encrypted chats.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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