Twitter and Facebook block Ukrainian activists. Again

After the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian volunteers and activists did an enormous amount of work not known before. At the same time, some people expanded their activities against those Ukrainians. There are many cases of blocking accounts of volunteers who collect funding for the army or refugees’ needs after a ton of Russian bots’ claims. AIN.Capital explains how Ukrainian activists’ social media accounts are blocked and what you should do in such cases.

About blocking

Ukrainian activists faced a massive blocking wave in 2013-2014 during the Maidan for the first time. It was so remarkable that in 2015, Ukrainian users brought it to trends by asking Mark Zuckerberg about this issue during his Q&A session (unfortunately, without a definite answer from the Facebook founder).

With the full-fledged Russian invasion, this issue became more acute again: Ukrainian activists can be banned several times within a single week, some for a limited period, and some “forever.” Denis Dovgopoliy, the coordinator of the initiative of the economic ban of the Russian Federation, had multiple bans on Facebook for sharp words toward Russians. Notably, the Facebook support reacts to hate speech cases (that’s how Russian bots with various fun names mark and report posts). So, he switched to Telegram because of the high risk of being blocked on Facebook.

A famous journalist and volunteer, Yana Suporovska, is one of the oldies of the Ukrainian Twitter segment and has received no claim for the last 13 years. But it changed with the full-scale war. She told AIN.Capital that during the first few weeks, Russian bots ignored Twitter. But then several aggressive waves arose: for example, bots could comment on posts of Ukrainian activists to provoke them for showing emotions and report them after that. A bit later, they focused on people who collect funds for our army.

“My story started after I collected significant amounts. We collected money for a drone for a National Guard Special Forces unit. It was expensive, 800.000 UAH, but we succeeded. The first 12-hour ban was for my ironic reply. I sent an appeal, but it was declined. Then they targeted my old tweets, all of them. They even reported a tweet with a picture of me hugging my son on Mother’s Day. Finally, claims reached the reply with the number of a credit card I used to collect money for the drone. Twitter assessed it as publishing personal information. So, I got three strikes, and my account was banned ‘forever,’” she said.

The stories of Yana and Denis, unfortunately, are few of many. And not always Ukrainian Twitter Community can help unban a profile. Anonymous activists who work on this issue informed AIN.Capital that massive blocking on Facebook started with the full-fledged invasion. Then Meta reps announced that they would not block accounts for sharing information about war crimes. But it was exactly the case: blocked accounts and hidden hashtags: just remember the story with hashtags about the Bucha massacre.

“Now I see less blocking, but it goes on. For example, popular Twitter accounts can be banned for hate speech or sharing personal data (credit card numbers, photos of bills, etc.) because the volunteers publish reports about spending funds they raised. Now Instagram and Facebook bans are rare to see, but they can delete posts and comments for hate speech and make warnings,” the activists added.

And it always costs us undelivered drones and vests for the frontline or meds and food for Ukrainian cities destroyed by Russian invaders. So what do users do to help in such cases?

What to do?

The activists who deal with unblocking accounts give recommendations to people providing volunteer aid, informational fighters, or other activists — create a backup channel.

“The first recommendation is to have a backup in case of blocking. If we recommended ‘just not to provoke them,’ it would sound like a pure cynicism. Sometimes the support service can help. I don’t know if public appeals have some influence on the Twitter Support, but at least somebody can see it and connect them directly.”

Ukrainian users initiate Twitter storms to force specific posts and hashtags in English into the trends and mention the Twitter Support, the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine that also works on this issue, Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey, and others.

According to the Ministry of Digital Transformation, the agency maintains contact with the Meta and Twitter teams to address issues related to the Ukrainian activists’ blocking. You can also report blocking of such accounts to the ministry at [email protected].