Social media companies were asked to “preserve and archive” Russian war crimes in Ukraine

Democratic lawmakers sent letters Thursday to social media companies Meta, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok advising them to “preserve and archive” evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

Often when graphic content appears on these social media platforms, algorithms or content reviewers censor or remove such posts.

In the letter, Representatives for Lawmakers Carolyn Maloney, DN.Y., Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., Gregory Meeks, DN.Y., and Bill Keating, D-Mass., acknowledge that companies sometimes need to eliminate this content for the safety and well-being of its users. Still, lawmakers raised concerns that removing the content entirely could erase the evidence. That evidence is perhaps necessary to determine war crimes such as genocide.

As of April 12, TikTok “removed 41,191 videos, 87% of which violated our policies against harmful disinformation. The vast majority (78%) were proactively identified.” This content was about the war in Ukraine.

Still, there are cases where mass reporting by a group of users or bots on a platform can remove content. Oftentimes, that content violated zero community guidelines. Additionally, the way platforms configure and enforce these rules and guidelines is not always uniform.

“We are concerned that the processes by which social media platforms remove or block this content,” part of the letters read.

Removal of such content “may result in the unintentional removal and permanent removal of content that could be used as evidence of potential human rights violations,” the lawmakers added.

Lawmakers also asked the companies for access to any evidence kept. Various international organizations and the US government will then use that evidence to investigate. Much of this research is already underway, but conclusive results could take years.

“Organizations will require access to all available information and evidence, including content posted on social media platforms, to conduct full and comprehensive investigations,” the lawmakers wrote.

The problem is that social media companies and their platforms are not very transparent about what content they remove. A similar problem occurred during the recent Syrian Civil War. According to the BBC, Human Rights Watch called for a centralized upload system throughout the conflict, to no avail.

These companies also have a variety of different responses to such situations. Now, TikTok’s focus is more on accounts that manufacture content or spread misinformation and disinformation. Google and Twitter have not released any policies that address these concerns.

Meta’s response was that it removes “content when it glorifies violence or celebrates the suffering of others.” The Facebook company also said it is exploring “ways to preserve this and other types of content when we remove it.”

So far, it is the only major social media platform that offers such guarantees. An app called Eye Witness to Atrocities documents war crimes specifically for that purpose.

Ukrainian refugee Maryna Hashlova holds a photo of her wedding with her husband Sergiy, who is in Ukraine, at their home in the city of Guarapuava, Parana state, Brazil, on May 6, 2022. Photo taken on May 6 of 2022.

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