Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, took an unusual step last week: It suspended some of the quality controls that ensure that posts from users in Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries meet its rules.
Under the change, Meta temporarily stopped tracking whether its workers who monitor Facebook and Instagram posts from those areas were accurately enforcing its content guidelines, six people with knowledge of the situation said. That’s because the workers could not keep up with shifting rules about what kinds of posts were allowed about the war in Ukraine, they said.
Meta has made more than half a dozen content policy revisions since Russia invaded Ukraine last month. The company has permitted posts about the conflict that it would normally have taken down — including some calling for the death of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and violence against Russian soldiers — before changing its mind or drawing up new guidelines, the people said.
The result has been internal confusion, especially among the content moderators who patrol Facebook and Instagram for text and images with gore, hate speech and incitements to violence. Meta has sometimes shifted its rules on a daily basis, causing whiplash, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
contended with pressure from Russian and Ukrainian authorities over the information battle about the conflict. And internally, it has dealt with discontent about its decisions, including from Russian employees concerned for their safety and Ukrainian workers who want the company to be tougher on Kremlin-affiliated organizations online, three people said.
Meta has weathered international strife before — including the genocide of a Muslim minority in Myanmar last decade and skirmishes between India and Pakistan — with varying degrees of success. Now the largest conflict on the European continent since World War II has become a litmus test of whether the company has learned to police its platforms during major global crises — and so far, it appears to remain a work in progress.
“All the ingredients of the Russia-Ukraine conflict have been around for a long time: the calls for violence, the disinformation, the propaganda from state media,” said David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a former special rapporteur to the United Nations. “What I find mystifying was that they didn’t have a game plan to deal with it.”
Dani Lever, a Meta spokeswoman, declined to directly address how the company was handling content decisions and employee concerns during the war.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Meta said it established a round-the-clock special operations team staffed by employees who are native Russian and Ukrainian speakers. It also updated its products to aid civilians in the war, including features that direct Ukrainians toward reliable, verified information to locate housing and refugee assistance.
Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, have been directly involved in the response to the war, said two people with knowledge of the efforts. But as Mr. Zuckerberg focuses on transforming Meta into a company that will lead the digital worlds of the so-called metaverse, many responsibilities around the conflict have fallen — at least publicly — to Nick Clegg, the president for global affairs.