Facebook parent company Meta has removed the Azov Regiment, a controversial unit within the Ukrainian National Guard with alleged far-right political leanings, from its list of dangerous individuals and organizations. The move, first reported by The Kyiv Independent, means members of the unit can now create Facebook and Instagram accounts and post without Meta automatically flagging and removing their content. Additionally, unaffiliated users can praise the Azov Regiment, provided they abide by the company’s Community Standards.
“The war in Ukraine has meant changing circumstances in many areas and it has become clear that the Azov Regiment does not meet our strict criteria for designation as a dangerous organization,” a company spokesperson told The Kyiv Independent. Meta did not immediately respond to Engadget’s comment request.
Sharing more information on the policy change, Meta told The Washington Post it recently began to view the Azov Regiment as a separate entity from other groups associated with the far-right nationalist Azov Movement. Specifically, the company pointed to Ukraine's National Corp political party and founder Andriy Biletsky, noting they’re still on its list of dangerous individuals and organizations. “Hate speech, hate symbols, calls for violence and any other content which violates our Community Standards are still banned, and we will remove this content if we find it,” Meta said.
The Azov Regiment was founded in 2014 by Biletsky following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the start of the Donbas War that same year. Before the unit was integrated into Ukraine’s National Guard in November 2014, it was controversial for its adherence to neo-Nazi ideology. In 2015, a spokesperson for the Azov Regiment said 10 to 20 percent of the unit’s recruits were self-professed Nazis. At the start of the 2022 conflict, Ukrainian officials said the Azov Regiment still had some extremists among its ranks but claimed the unit had largely become depoliticized. During the months-long siege of Mariupol, the Azov Regiment played a prominent role in the city’s defense. Russia captured many of the battalion’s fighters at the end of the battle.
The change underscores just how much Meta’s content moderation policies have changed since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Partway through last year, the company began temporarily allowing people in Ukraine and a handful of other countries to call for violence against Russian soldiers. After the decision created controversy, Meta said it would turn to the Oversight Board for policy guidance, a request the company later withdrew, citing “ongoing safety and security concerns” related to the war.