Twitter labels tweets sharing links from Russian state mediaVish Gainon March 1, 2022 at 09:19 Silicon RepublicSilicon Republic

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Twitter has added labels to all tweets that link to Russian state-affiliated media and curb their reach to prevent the spread of misinformation surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a tweet yesterday (28 February), Twitter head of site strategy, Yoel Roth, said that more than 45,000 tweets a day with URLs that link to Russian state-affiliated media organisations such as RT and Sputnik have been circulating on Twitter since the invasion of Ukraine began.

“As people look for credible information on Twitter regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we understand and take our role seriously. Our product should make it easy to understand who’s behind the content you see, and what their motivations and intentions are,” he tweeted.

Twitter has until now labelled and de-amplified the accounts of global state media outlets, such as those from Russia, but labelling individual tweets that share content from them is a first.

While Russian websites such as RT and Sputnik will be affected by this new move, other state-financed media organisations such as the BBC in the UK or NPR in the US will not be defined as -state-affiliated media because of their editorial independence.

In the case of state-affiliated media entities, Twitter will not “recommend” or amplify accounts or their Tweets with these labels to people. Twitter maintains a list of government personnel, media organisations and journalists from more than 20 countries that it labels on their profiles.

Some, such as Adam Levin, a consumer advocate and podcaster who discusses technology, have questioned the effectiveness of the move based on whether Twitter will be able to identify all state-affiliated media.

“While this seems like a welcome development, I’m sceptical that they’ll be able to mark all tweets linked to Russian state-backed media, which may lull users into a false sense of security,” he tweeted.

Tech steps-up efforts

The move comes amid a spate of sweeping measures from major tech companies to help Ukrainian civilians and stand up against Russia for its aggressions in the country.

After an appeal from the Ukrainian government, Google banned the RT new app from its Play store in Ukraine to help curb the spread of misinformation around the invasion. New users will not be able to download the app, while those who already have it will not receive any updates.

Alphabet-owned YouTube also said on Saturday that it is pausing several Russian channels’ ability to monetise and “significantly limiting” recommendations to these channels. This includes RT, which is also being blocked on YouTube in Ukraine.

A similar move to block monetisation was introduced by Meta on its Facebook platform ws introduced since the invasion, while Meta’s new head of global affairs Nick Clegg tweeted last week that it will continue independently fact-checking and labelling Russian state media despite being ordered by the Russian government not to do so.

Other companies such as TikTok, Microsoft and Netflix have also been standing up to Russia through their tech.

A TikTok spokesperson told NPR that it is blocking RT and Sputnik on its platform for users in the EU – removing access to all their content. Microsoft also said yesterday that it will drop the RT news app from its app store, not display RT or Sputnik content on its Start news feed, and de-prioritise the sites on its search engine Bing.

Meanwhile, Netflix said it will not comply with a new Russian rule to stream 20 state-backed channels on its platform. Roku, another streaming service, is reportedly removing RT from the Roku channel store in Europe. In Ireland, TV provider Eir has already blocked RT from its service.

This concerted effort comes after the EU announced a ban on RT and Sputnik and their subsidiaries so that they “will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war”, according to a tweet by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday.

According to TechCrunch, the ban is expected to cover not just traditional broadcast channels but online platforms and apps as well.

While the moves are unprecedented and many, some in the region say it is not enough. Ukrainian vice prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted yesterday that Google was not doing enough on YouTube to de-platform Russian state media “in the strongest possible terms”.

The leaders of Ukraine neighbours Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have criticised Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter for not doing enough to crackdown on misinformation surrounding the invasion.

In a joint letter to the CEOs of the four companies seen by SiliconRepublic.com, the leaders called on them to suspend accounts of individuals and institutions that deny or glorify the Russian invasion of Ukraine and spread misinformation, among other recommendations.

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