Facebook reverses ban on praise for Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi group if it fights Russia

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Ukraine's Neo-Nazi group. [Photo: Twitter/ Polk_Azov]

Facebook is reversing the ban it placed on users praising the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi military unit, The Intercept reported on Saturday.

The battalion was banned in 2019 under Facebook’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy. The platform had classified the group alongside others such as the Ku Klux Klan and Islamic State.

As per the internal policy materials reviewed by The Intercept, Facebook will “allow praise of the Azov Battalion when explicitly and exclusively praising their role in defending Ukraine OR their role as part of Ukraine’s National Guard.”

Internally published examples of speech that Facebook now deems acceptable include “Azov movement volunteers are real heroes, they are a much-needed support to our national guard”; “We are under attack. Azov has been courageously defending our town for the last 6 hours”; and “I think Azov is playing a patriotic role during this crisis.”

The paramilitary forces began as a volunteer anti-Russia militia who joined the Ukrainian National Guard in 2014. They garnered support from many Ukrainians when, that year, they fought Russia’s army and separatist proxy forces from taking Mariupol, an eastern port city, BuzzFeed reported.

The group, which boasts thousands of members alongside hundreds of armed fighters, is overt about its ideology.

The materials stipulate that Azov still can’t use Facebook platforms for recruiting purposes or for publishing its own statements and that the regiment’s uniforms and banners will remain as banned hate symbol imagery, even while Azov soldiers may fight wearing and displaying them.

In a tacit acknowledgment of the group’s ideology, the memo provides two examples of posts that would not be allowed under the new policy: “Goebbels, the Fuhrer and Azov, all are great models for national sacrifices and heroism” and “Well done Azov for protecting Ukraine and it’s white nationalist heritage.”

As per the report, the exemption will no doubt create confusion for Facebook’s moderators, tasked with interpreting the company’s muddled and at time contradictory censorship rules under exhausting conditions. While Facebook users may now praise any future battlefield action by Azov soldiers against Russia, the new policy notes that “any praise of violence” committed by the group is still forbidden; it’s unclear what sort of nonviolent warfare the company anticipates.

In a statement to The Intercept, company spokesperson Erica Sackin confirmed the decision but declined to answer questions about the new policy.


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