The prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Lithuania on Monday penned a letter to the CEOs of global technology companies Twitter, Google and Meta to de-platform Russian media outlets’ social media accounts as they spread disinformation and propaganda in the midst of a war between Russia and Ukraine.
“Tech companies must de-platform Russian propaganda outlets including RT and Sputnik News and key political figures who are spreading hate and disinformation, helping to fuel this war. And search engines need to delist unauthorized content and disinformation in favor of legitimate sources,” reads the letter.
YouTube, the popular video platform owned by Google, said Saturday that it will temporarily halt the ability of a number of Russian channels – including state-sponsored Russian media RT – to monetize their content on the platform. It will also be "significantly limiting" recommendations to those channels.
Facebook, which is owned by Meta platforms, announced on Monday that it will block access to Russia's RT and Sputnik News in the EU. Twitter has decided to label tweets from associated accounts as having come from Russian state-backed media.
“The Putin war propaganda channels are still very prominent on the major social media platforms. Some obvious examples include the Kremlin’s Twitter account, RT and Sputnik’s YouTube channels, and RT and others’ Facebook accounts, among many, many others. This disinformation leads to harm and contributes to the threats against democracies everywhere,” the letter continues.
“These channels and accounts must be removed immediately.”
Free speech on social media platforms is among the 21st century’s tech-related conflicts, as the line between free speech and dangerous rhetoric can sometimes be hard to draw. For instance, COVID-19 vaccine-related content on social media platforms is typically accompanied by a disclaimer that is meant to refer the viewer to a primary source of information – and thus combat fake news.
“So far, the tech companies have failed to act in any meaningful way," the letter said. "Even as the European Union has banned some Russian propaganda outlets, people across the US and other parts of the globe are being subjected to lies. And dangerous international fascist and white supremacist groups continue to find inspiration in Putin’s propaganda.
“As the world watches Putin’s brutal and deadly invasion of Ukraine in horror, tech companies must decide immediately which side of history they are on."
The letter called for further actions against the Russian government-backed media platforms – namely, the complete and total removal of their accounts from prominent social media websites.
“Some platforms, including YouTube and Facebook, have announced they will demonetize the Kremlin-funded propaganda machine… but that doesn’t go nearly far enough, the letter said.
We know from experience, and indeed minimum research today, that YouTube is incapable of adequately demonetizing accounts and that Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube are incapable of appropriately labeling accounts with violative content and disinformation," it said. "A piecemeal approach by YouTube, Facebook, Google, TikTok, and Twitter is unacceptable. Any channel or account spewing disinformation must be de-platformed altogether, especially those of the politically powerful.
“This time, these companies must finally step up and do the right thing, take a lesson from the people of Ukraine and all those supporting them, including the Russian peace movement, and put humanity before profit and power,” the letter concludes.