Twitter takes a tougher line on POW photos, bans Russian government accounts

Twitter announced tuesday that it “will demand the removal of Tweets posted by government or state-affiliated media accounts” if they contain images or videos showing prisoners of war from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The company also said it would “significantly” reduce the chances of people seeing messages from Russian government accounts.

In his latest updates to a publication detailing how the company is responding to the conflict, Twitter says the move aims to ensure its platform is not used to spread content that violates the Geneva Conventions, one of which requires prisoners of war to be protected from “acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. This comes after the Ukrainian government was criticized for publishing images of dead soldiers, as well as videos of captured soldiers being questioned.

While Twitter will ask government accounts to remove media featuring POWs, there will be some exceptions for “compelling public interest or newsworthy POW content,” according to a wire by Twitter’s Site Integrity Officer, Yeol Roth. According to the post, users will see a “warning interstitial” if a post is allowed to remain in place. The company also says that content showing PoWs that is “shared with abusive intent” (e.g. mocks or threatens) by anyone will be removed.

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

Others disagree. Slate spoke to Adil Haque, a law professor and legal ethicist, about the published media, and he argued that context is not particularly important in this type of conflict. “While a particular instance of POW registration may seem innocuous, especially if it is in fact portrayed in a sympathetic light, the idea is that we need a broad ban so that we don’t don’t have to debate on a case-by-case basis whether this is a good or a bad submission to public curiosity,” he told the publication. In other words, the Conventions should be used as general policy.

An article written by Gordon Risius and Michael Meyer (pdf) as part of the International Red Cross Review argues that there may be other downsides to governments sharing POW media. He says the media could be used against prisoners or their families by their governments and that the images can be staged, making it difficult to rely on them as evidence of humane treatment (especially when taken explicitly for viewing by the general public). public).

This debate is not new. Risius and Meyer’s Red Cross paper was written in the 1990s after the Gulf War and argues that the Geneva Conventions need to be updated for the age of mass media. (The article on protection from public insult and curiosity has been around for almost a century.) There have also been debates about what the media could show during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. While Twitter says its new rules allow “essential reporting”, it puts its foot quite firmly on the side of not allowing states to share images of POWs.

In addition to its POW rules, Twitter is de facto banning Russian government accounts by removing them from follow recommendations and ensuring they won’t be “boosted” on people’s timelines or pages. exploration and research. Roth says in his tweet thread that this action will be taken against all “states that restrict access to free information and are engaged in interstate armed conflict.”

Post from Twitter explains the rationale for the decision by saying that a government blocking citizens’ access to a service while continuing to publish on it creates a “serious information imbalance”. At the start of the invasion, Russia restricted how citizens could access Twitter and then blocked Instagram outright. Roth clarified that Twitter will apply these rules even if it is not one of the banned platforms in a country.


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