Monday, May 16, 2022

Twitter takes tougher action against POW photos and shadows Russian government accounts

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Shreya Christina
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Twitter announced on Tuesday that it “requires the removal of Tweets posted by government or state media accounts” if they contain images or videos showing prisoners of war of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The company also said it would “drastically reduce” the chances of people seeing messages from Russian government accounts.

In the most recent updates from a post Describing how the company is responding to the conflict, Twitter says this decision is aimed at ensuring its platform is not used to distribute content that violates the law. Geneva Conventions, one of which requires prisoners of war to be protected from “acts of violence or intimidation and from insults and public curiosity”. This comes after the government of Ukraine has been criticized for posting images of dead soldiers, as well as videos of captured soldiers being interrogated.

While Twitter will ask government accounts to remove any media showing POWs, there will be some exceptions for “compelling public interest or newsworthy POW content,” it said. a wire by Twitter’s head of site integrity, Yeol Roth. According to the post, users will see a “warning interstitial” if a message is allowed to remain. The company also says that content showing PoWs shared “with abusive intent” (e.g., mocking or threatening) will be removed by someone.

Governments sharing media depicting POWs is a controversial topic, especially in a conflict where one side is a clear aggressor. Such as Slate points out, the videos of POWs posted by Ukrainian government accounts may be considered sympathetic — they seem to suggest that some Russian soldiers have been lied to by their government and are also suffering from the invasion. Some, like Malcolm Nancea commentator on terrorism and torture, has acknowledged that the images may violate international law, but says it is acceptable in this case.

Others disagree. Slate spoke to Adil Haque, a law professor and legal ethicist, about the media being posted, arguing that context was not particularly important in this type of conflict. “Even if a particular case of taking a prisoner of war may seem harmless, especially when portrayed in a sympathetic light, the idea is that we need a broad ban so that we don’t have to debate on a case-by-case basis whether this is a good or bad submission to public curiosity,” he told the publication. In other words, the treaties should be used as general policy.

A paper written by Gordon Risius and Michael Meyer (pdf) as part of the Red Cross’s international review states that there may be other drawbacks to governments’ sharing of media about prisoners of war. It states that the media can be used by their governments against the prisoners or their families and that photographs can be staged, making it difficult to rely on them as evidence of humane treatment (especially when explicitly seen to be used by the general). being watched). public).

This debate is not new. The Red Cross paper by Risius and Meyer was written in the 1990s after the Gulf War and argues that the Geneva Conventions should be adapted to the mass media era. (The article on protection from insults and public curiosity has has been around for almost a century.) There were also debates about what the media might show during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. While Twitter says the new rules allow for “essential reporting”, it’s pretty firmly on the side of not allowing states to share images of prisoners of war.

In addition to rules surrounding POWs, Twitter is de facto banning Russian government accounts by removing them from its recommendations and making sure they aren’t “boosted” on people’s timelines or on the Explore and Search pages. Roth says in his tweet thread that this action will be taken against all “states that restrict access to free information and are involved in armed conflict between states.”

Twitter’s message explains the rationale behind the decision, saying that a government that blocks citizens’ access to a service while continuing to post to it creates a “serious information imbalance”. Early in the invasion, Russia restricted access to Twitter to civilians and later blocked Instagram outright. Roth does clarify that Twitter will apply these rules even if it is not one of the platforms banned in a country.

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