How & Why Facebook Moderators Block Criticism of Nazis in Ukraine

The Ukrainian news agency “Strana” has reported several times (example) about the close connection between the ultra-right and the Ukrainian moderators of the largest social network Facebook.

There are more than 14 million Facebook users in Ukraine. Given this huge number, “Strana” decided to continue researching the issue.

We found a lot of facts confirming that the Ukrainian censors of the largest social network persecute journalists for criticising the ultra-right and even produce fakes themselves.

Close ties with the “Svoboda” party

It is already widely known that one of Facebook’s two contractors for checking Ukrainian content is the StopFake organisation, which is linked to ultra-right activists. Facebook’s public policy manager in Ukraine is 29-year-old Ekaterina Kruk. She was appointed on May 27th last year. She works in the Facebook office in Warsaw. As was said by “Strana”, Ekaterina Kruk previously worked for the already mentioned organisation StopFake.

Before Maidan, Ekaterina Kruk was an assistant to the people’s deputy from the nationalist “Svoboda” party, Igor Shvaika. She worked as an assistant to the people’s deputy both on a voluntary basis and on a paid basis:

Igor Shvaika was the head of the Kharkov regional committee of the “Svoboda” party and a member of the Rada in 2012-2014. Back then he entered parliament on the party list of “Svoboda” as number 8, and in the first post-Maidan government Igor Shvaika became the Minister of Agriculture.

According to a 2012 analysis by “The World”, a news program of “PRI”, the largest public radio network in the United States, the “Svoboda” party was a party that professed Nazi ideology:

In 2013-2014, Ekaterina Kruk was an active participant in Maidan, where she also supported the “Svoboda” party. Back then she published on her Twitter page sometimes a dozen posts a day in English, which is why she became one of the most famous Maidan activists in the west.

Swiss journalist Nils Ackermann captured Ekaterina Kruk during her work as an assistant to a Deputy at the beginning of Maidan:

After Maidan, Ekaterina Kruk worked at the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center, then, since 2016, as a manager for the social networks of the Verkhovna Rada.

Her work was managed by speaker Andriy Parubiy – an ultra-right politician from Lvov and one of the leaders of Maidan. He then commanded the “Maidan self-defense”.

Ekaterina Kruk herself spoke about Parubiy’s management of her activities in an interview. She respectfully called her boss “Andriy Volodimirovich”:

Ekaterina Kruk comes from Rovno, from a family of small entrepreneurs. Her father, Nikolay Kruk, like his daughter, is an activist of the nationalist “Svoboda” party.

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In 2015, he was included in the list of candidates for the Rovno City Council election on the list of “Svoboda”. However, he did not have much luck back then: he was included in the list as number 8, but “Svoboda” managed to hold only 7 deputies in the City Council. As a result, Ekaterina Kruk’s father never became a deputy.

In July 2019, according to the party report, Nikolay Kruk sponsored “Svoboda” in the amount of 142,000 hryvnia:

“Odessa cleaned itself from terrorists”

After “Strana” reported about the links between Facebook censors (including Ekaterina Kruk) and the ultra-right, she closed access to her page on the social network Twitter, where she previously actively published her messages:

However, before that, it was succeeded to save on several web archives several thousand messages from Ekaterina Kruk’s Twitter. From them, one can make a fairly complete picture of the political views of the Ukrainian manager of the largest social network on the planet.

For example, on May 2nd, 2014, the day of the tragedy in Odessa, where a fire in the House of Trade Unions killed more than 40 people, Ekaterina Kruk said: “Odessa cleaned itself from terrorists, proud for city fighting for its identity. Glory to fallen heroes.” This message in English was saved in one of the web archives:

Another Facebook manager for Ukraine publicly rejoiced when Turkey shot down a Russian plane. She also called for the introduction of martial law in Ukraine. She gloated about the violence of the ultra-right against Ukrainian left-wing politicians and repeatedly called for the Communist Party of Ukraine to be banned.

In general, Ukrainian content on Facebook is monitored by a person with extreme right-wing political views. This raises doubts about the objectivity and impartiality of the moderators of the largest social network in covering topics related to Ukraine.

How Facebook censorship works

On March 27th, Ekaterina Kruk announced the launch of a fact-checking program in Ukraine with two partners – StopFake and VoxCheck. Ekaterina Kruk clarified that content that “factcheckers” recognise as “manipulative” will be shown lower in the news feed of Facebook users.

The mechanism of Facebook is that each user of the social network has its own individual news feed. It consists of a sequence of messages from other users, as well as ads.

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The sequence of messages in each user’s feed is individual. It is formed by complex Facebook algorithms. In fact, the social network builds an individual information reality for each person.

Therefore, any information that appeared manipulative to Facebook’s censors is placed in each user’s feed lower than other posts. As a result, the probability of reading this information is reduced. After all, not all users can and want to scroll through their feed to the end.

As Ekaterina Kruk admitted, this helps to reduce and, as a result, stop the spread of “seditious” content, as well as minimise the number of people who will see it.

All these censorship restrictions apply to both Facebook and the social network Instagram, which also belongs to Facebook:

However, the number of complaints does not matter. As Ekaterina Kruk reported in an interview, Facebook uses automation to identify duplicate complaints. “If 1000 people complain about the content, it will not be viewed by 1000 employees on our side. We always check not by the number of complaints, but by whether the community rules have been violated,” she said.

How Facebook censors screwed up

Before Facebook, as was reported by “Strana”, Ekaterina Kruk worked for the public organisation StopFake. And it was StopFake that became one of two Facebook contractors that the largest social network hired to moderate Ukrainian content.

The quality of the “fact checking” of the StopFake organisation can be judged by many examples. For example, according to the “refutation” that this organisation tried to give to the publication of “Strana” about the participation of the ultra-right in Kiev’s municipal security structures.

Another case is in late March, when the new censors had just started working, Facebook said that the publication of journalist Andrey Manchuk about the new censors from the StopFake organisation was “fake” and hid it. The journalist himself reported this on his page:

In early June, Facebook called the “Zaborona” website fake and blocked one of its publications. After that, Facebook also banned the social media editor of this site. This incident was reported by the chief editor of the newspaper “Zaborona” Ekaterina Sergatskova.

After the scandal, Facebook censors were forced to unblock links to the article on the social network. At the same time, Facebook manager for Ukraine Ekaterina Kruk did not explain what happened, but only admitted that Facebook “made a mistake”. This was also reported by the chief editor of “Zaborona” Ekaterina Sergatskova:

Facebook goes into crisis

Strana recently reported that the world’s largest companies have announced a boycott of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg has lost $7.2 billion. The social network is required to increase Facebook’s moderation of complaints of bullying and harassment, automatically remove hate ads, and moderate the closure of extremist groups. At the end of last week, Facebook’s price fell by 8.3%, or $56 billion.

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At the same time, the founder and main shareholder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg on June 26th said that, according to EU research, Facebook is faster and removes a higher percentage of hostile remarks than other major Internet platforms, including YouTube and Twitter.

“We have invested heavily in both AI systems and teams made up of people, and now we identify almost 90% of hostile statements that we delete before someone even reports them,” Zuckerberg added.

Thus, according to Mark Zuckerberg, both humans and artificial intelligence (AI) are “hunting” for hostile statements on Facebook. However, AI systems are currently more “advanced” in terms of English-language utterances. Therefore, most likely, the main load in the Ukrainian and Russian-speaking segments of the social network falls on humans.

“Strana” has already spoke about how they do this in the article “Ukrainian moderators on Facebook did not see a violation in the word “katsap“.

The author found this word, which is included in the list of prohibited words that incite hatred on a national basis, in about two dozen publications on the social network. Then they sent complaints about them.

Almost all complaints were rejected. The moderators responded that the publications “do not violate specific community standards”.

Then a “second-level complaint” was sent about the results of this check, which goes directly to Facebook, and not to the Ukrainian contractor.

And four days after the initial complaint, the social network issued another verdict. It turns out that the word “katsap” does “violate community standards in relation to hostile statements”. The post with this word was removed from Facebook, which asked for forgiveness for the error and was thankful for such vigilance.

Aleksey Romanov

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