The wall of propaganda is broken: how Ukraine achieved the unblocking of the Azov regiment in Meta social networks
For several years, Azov could not be mentioned on Instagram and Facebook, because users were immediately blocked for this. This Meta policy was based on the fabrications and lies of Russia, which promoted to the West the narrative that the military regiments were Nazis. However, at the beginning of 2023, the Ministry of Digital Development managed to finally destroy the wall of Russian propaganda – Meta lifted all the bans associated with Azov.
For Meta to finally unblock Azov in its social networks, they actively worked for several years regiment representatives. Subsequently, this issue began to be studied in the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, which is important even before the start of the Russian invasion in 2022. However, the main work began precisely after February 24, when the Azov fighters heroically held the defense of Mariupol, and social networks blocked posts for mentioning the regiment.
It took almost a year to convince Meta to remove Azov from the list of dangerous individuals and organizations. For Ukraine, this is a very important decision. For the first time in history, we were lifted from a large-scale ban that lasted for several years, which was constantly supported by Russian propaganda around the world. Now Ukrainians can safely write on Facebook and Instagram about the regiment, its military, military operations, financial collections, etc. Of course, provided that this content does not violate the Meta policy.
Unlock “Azov”on the part of the Ministry of Digital Development, Anton Melnik, an expert on innovations and start-ups, was mainly involved; on the part of the regiment, Yulia Fedosyuk, the wife of an Azov soldier, a representative of the Association of Families of Defenders of Azovstal, and Ekaterina Prokopenko is the wife of Denis Prokopenko “Radish” regiment commander. How we managed to influence Meta's decision and why the lifting of the ban on Azov is a blow to Russian propaganda – we tell in the material of the Channel 24 website.
“Azov” is banned: how Facebook bought into Russian propaganda
Let's start with a short story – July 7, 2015 administration Facebook removed the official Azov page, which had more than 50,000 followers, without notice. Since then, that is, almost 8 years, there has been no other official Facebook page of the regiment. Subsequently, it turned out that the social network, in principle, bans for any mention of “Azov” or its military.
Facebook's decision was not without Russia and propaganda. It was the aggressor country that promoted to the West the opinion that Azov is a neo-Nazi group, and its fighters are radical nationalists. And this, despite the fact that Crimean Tatars, Georgians, Jews serve in the regiment, who are difficult to imagine as “Nazis.” In general, Azov people are people of different cultures, religions, who communicate in different languages. But this does not negate the fact that it was beneficial for Russia to discredit them and show them as terrorists.
When we are asked about neo-Nazism… “Azov” is a multinational unit, it is a kind of assembly point for anti-Kremlin forces, in whose ranks the same Russians and Belarusians serve, who, unable to take up arms in their own countries, came to “Azov “and he gave them such an opportunity,” says Yulia Fedosyuk.
Unfortunately, this hostile Russian theory about Azov “neo-Nazis” was also supported by some Western journalists, politicians, and activists. It got to the point that in October 2019, 40 congressmen demanded at the US State Department to add Azov to the list of foreign terrorist organizations. However, this did not happen.
Important! The Azov Regiment is a separate special forces detachment that is part of the National Guard formation. That is, this is an official state unit subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.
In general, the Western media and organizations that accused the regiment of almost all the sins of the military world were unable to provide reasoned facts about this. Until February 24, there were a huge number of monitoring groups in Ukraine, which monitored, in particular, the regiment and its combat activities.
“There is no evidence of war crimes that would have been committed by representatives of Azov. And this is the main argument. After all, you can say whatever you like, show some photos, but there are facts. And the facts say that Azov is an effective unit, which demonstrated heroic power in Mariupol and in the war.In addition, the regiment is supported both in the East and in the West, and in the Center, and in Crimea.It is supported by the Jewish community, LGBT – these groups of the population, in my opinion, neo-Nazism and neo-Nazis will not be supported,” explains Yulia Fedosyuk.
So this whole anti-Azov campaign affected not only people, but also companies. In 2016, Facebook added Azov to the list of dangerous organizations , and started blocking any pages related to the regiment .According to non-public data, the American company even conducted its own investigation into Azov, worked it out with lawyers and supported it with photos, videos, and articles from important Western media. Therefore, it was almost impossible for users to prove to Facebook or Instagram that Azov were not terrorists or neo-Nazis.
Unfortunately, Ukraine and the government did not react to the whole round of Russian propaganda against Azov in the world. Yulia recalls that “then everyone laughed, that it was stupid, that all these materials were just a fiction of the Russians, and they moved on. And the regiment is still trying to correct the consequences of the blocking.”
Ban “Azov”, again, took place thanks to the Russians, their powerful propaganda and resources, and also thanks to the inaction of the Ukrainian government of that time. Therefore, subsequently, Azov got used to the fact that they were blocked in social networks, – says Anton Melnik. how social networks circumvented the ban
In recent years, Ukrainians, the Ukrainian media have tried to avoid mentioning Azov in social networks or wrote about them without directly naming them. But a full-scale invasion in early 2022 again exposed the problem of blocking the regiment on Facebook and Instagram. When the Azov people courageously defended the country at the front, Meta massively blocked users for mentioning them.
A vivid history began after a full-scale war. “Azov”, like other military units, has increased significantly, new people have come. Subsequently, the regiment courageously showed itself in Mariupol. Everyone once again saw that Azov is a heroic unit with the head of Radish, – says Anton Melnik.
So, was it possible to remain silent about what was happening in Mariupol or at Azovstal? No. It was necessary to speak, shout, show how the Azovites, together with other units, defend the country, in what conditions they are, how they repulse the attacks of the Russians to the last and draw their significant forces onto themselves.
Then the designations “defenders of Mariupol, Azovstal”, “a regiment under the command of Denis Prokopenko” appeared on the network. And, of course, it was necessary to ensure that photos or videos posted online did not have the Azov symbol or chevrons. It was the only way to tell the world the truth about the events in Mariupol and not get banned.
By the way, in the social networks of Channel 24, we constantly wrote about Azov since the beginning of the war in Donbass, there were hundreds of posts on Facebook and Instagram. However, like most Ukrainian media, one day they got banned for it. And then another and another. One of the bans was for a chevron that was almost invisible in the photo, although there was no mention of Azov itself anywhere.
“Our story with the blocking of Azov began long before the full-scale invasion. Since 2014, we have been very active in posting publications with the regiment and its symbols, and what is most surprising is thatthe first ban was received for a publication that hung on the page all year round!That is, for a year, the Meta thought that everything was OK, and then suddenly decided to take up old publications, “says Jaromir Vdovich, head of the SMM department of Channel 24.
Of course, these bans had a negative impact on the page, the coverage dropped significantly, which means that the traffic on the site also fell.Therefore, we had to clean Facebook from any mention of Azov, deleted an incredible number of publications and hoped that we didn’t miss anything. was to speak without naming him.That was the only way.
The word and symbols of AZOV have become taboo with us. Everywhere where the regiment appeared, we wrote “regiment”, “military”, “defenders of Mariupol”. We tried to fight this for a long time, wrote to various departments of the Meta and the support service. But it didn't help at all. Fortunately, we managed to find the right people in the media community who contributed to the fact that the bans were lifted for us, adds Jaromir.
Therefore, if we, journalists, for example, somehow tried to bypass the threats of blocking on Facebook or Instagram (although this was not always possible), then the soldiers of the regiment or their relatives received bans constantly.
We understand that social networks are actually mouthpieces on a par with the media. And not being in them means again letting someone else talk about you. It is also important here that others could talk about Azov, and we were simply removed – both our point of view, and arguments, and just elementary information about what is happening in the city, which the Russians razed to the ground, – Yulia explains the problem of blocking Fedosyuk.
He also adds that due to the policy of social networks it was difficult to help the regiment – to raise funds to buy walkie-talkies, thermal imaging sights for the guys, and transfer them to Azovstal when it was possible. Each camp was canceled due to the fact that it went specifically to the “Azov” groups.
Who worked on the unblocking of “Azov”
It is a mistake to think that work on unlocking “Azov” began after February 24th. No. The representatives of the regiment have been trying to bring the truth to both Meta and the world since the first blockages. The Ministry of Digital Transformation has been dealing with this problem since 2021, because they saw that people were blocked on social networks for any mention related to the regiment – for words, for memories, for photos.
However, it is logical that after the full-scale invasion, the work on unblocking Azov on Facebook and Instagram seriously intensified and became noticeable. Representatives of the regiment began to communicate directly with representatives of the Ministry of Digital Development, and those with Nick Clegg, Meta's president for global policy.
If we talk about names, Yulia Fedosyuk was mainly involved in the issue of unblocking Azov in social networks from the side of the regiment and Ekaterina Prokopenko. On the part of the Ministry of Digital Development – Anton Melnik and Minister Mikhail Fedorov. On behalf of the Meta, Ekaterina Kruk, Meta's Public Policy Manager for Central and Eastern Europe.
We started with the fact that I analyzed the largest texts of the American and European media, where the absolute lie about “Azov” poured. I have worked through these sources and made such a large reference document about what the regiment really is in order to disprove the basic myths from these propaganda materials. We sent this to the Ministry of Digital Development and our communication began with this, – says Yulia.
Representatives of the Mintsifra communicated and called up with the moderation department and Meta managers both in Europe and in the States. Minister Mikhail Fedorov raised the issue of the regiment's unit several times at meetings with Nick Clegg.
After that, the first concessions appeared on social networks regarding content about Azov. According to Anton Melnyk, they related to the military context – one could talk about the regiment and its fighters who participated in the battles and defended the country in the war. However, “Azov” could not have an official account, it was impossible to publish photos, write large posts or raise money to help the regiment.
So, work on unlocking the regiment was constantly going on in a kind of dialogue triangle: representatives of Azov – Mintsifra – Meta.
Hundreds of calls, meetings, ideas and brainstorms, what else can be done and how best to prove to Meta employees that “Azov” are not terrorists.
Yulia Fedosyuk says that the Association and the regiment had an understanding that there are 3 whales in the problem of the “Azov” bloc:
“The media influence Meta, which takes into account the materials of reputable media. Unfortunately, the American politicians are also not transparent – they had their own agents of Moscow and people who were interested in certain scandals in order to develop their subjectivity. Therefore, in general, there is such a big tangle of problems and Meta is just one of the pebbles of the wall that we had to break through, and in fact it was a work that was not only about our own communications with them, but simply about working with arguments, with a huge amount of media that came out over 8 years, which, to Unfortunately, they didn't have an adequate answer,” Yulia explains.
From “neo-Nazis” to heroes: how Meta changed her mind about the regiment< /h2>
The biggest problem with the unblocking of Azov on social media was that for several years Meta considered it to be neo-Nazi, and this claim was “substantiated by alleged facts.” Neither the letters of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, nor the conversations of our representatives in the UN General Assembly influenced the corporation. Although it was some letters from Russians from the UN that once influenced Meta's decision. As Anton Melnyk explains, it looked serious to block the regiment on Facebook, but it was not enough to unblock it.
But, as they say, water wears away stone. And the hard work of Ukraine to refute all Russian propaganda on the regiment gave its result.
It was after Mariupol and Azovstal that journalists became interested in the topic of Azov, and they began to talk with its representatives, with their families. They spoke with the residents of Mariupol who were being rescued by Azov, they spoke with the authorities about Azov. And then, of course, the eyes were opened. But the Meta is a huge corporation that cannot turn 180° in one moment. Therefore, all these materials had to be demonstrated, spoken out and conveyed to them, – says Yulia Fedosyuk.
What is important and valuable, on our side in this fight was Nick Clegg. At first, the Ministry of Digital Transformation managed to convince and explain to him that Azov is a military unit, and not neo-Nazis or terrorists. And later, the Vice President of the Meta himself conveyed this truth to his colleagues in the company.
“Nick Clegg, with whom we had the greatest cooperation, personally understood everything that we conveyed. Finally understood. And he became our ambassador on the issue of unblocking Azov,” says Anton Melnik.
The decision to unblock Azov was finally made at the Met a few weeks before the last meeting in Davos on January 19, between Mikhail Fedorov, Nick Clegg and Monika Bickert – VP of Moderation Policy at the Meta.
“I organized this meeting and decided to make a surprise, because it was much more interesting than the announcement in advance. Therefore, Mikhail found out about the unblocking of the regiment already at the meeting. And at it they decided to publicly declare that Meta would no longer block “Azov”, adds Anton Melnik.
Meta promised not to block content about the Azov Regiment. Thanks to this, millions of people in the world will know about the feat of the defenders and defenders of Mariupol, and Russian propaganda will lose an argument for blaming Ukrainian heroes. – Immediately after the meeting, Fedorov officially announced.
On the same evening, January 19, for the first time in several years, the Azov regiment created an official account on Instagram. More than 100 thousand users signed up for the page in a day. This only proves that Ukrainians have long been waiting for the regiment on social networks and want to hear about Azov from Azov.
Another important decision that the Ministry of Digital Development managed to implement was that Meta verified the Azov account. As Anton Melnyk explains, the verification of the page of the families of the Azovstal defenders became a progress towards this, because it was beautiful, with important information and did not violate any rules of the social network.
Azov has been removed from the list of banned organizations and now they cannot be blocked for mentioning him in any way – not for words, not for support, not for raising money, not for anything. For the current logos – even more so. If they block any posts of the official account of “Azov” or Azov people, then this will be a block for other violations of the standards. emphasizes Anton Melnik.
“We are officially getting out of this ban, from the black list, you can call it whatever you like. We will not be blocked anymore. At least they promise so. But the official rules of the Meta remain, so if they are violated in the post about Azov, post will be demolished.” Here one should also understand the specifics of the corporation itself, which does not really like content about the war. And we live in a situation of war and content, unfortunately, is mostly of this nature,” Yulia adds.
Important! “, except for the old one – on which the “Black Sun” sign banned on Meta.
Azov chevrons that can and cannot be published on social networks/Infographics of Channel 24
So what in general, if we talk about what influenced the historical decision of the Meta, we can call it:
- the active work of the Ministry of Digital Development and representatives of the regiment, who tried to convey that Azov were not Nazis, but the military;
- the activity of users who organized flash mobs on Instagram and Facebook to unblock Azov, who kept the topic of the defense of Mariupol on their lips , and subsequently the captivity of fighters;
- positive (although it is worth noting here – truthful) interviews, programs, studies and media materials about the regiment, its commanders, fighters, military operations;
- refutation of Russian fakes about Azov, which were made by both native fighters and Ukrainian media;
- and most importantly, the heroism of the Azov people themselves, who proved in the war that they were defenders, not terrorists.
Important.In addition to working with Meta, the Association of Families of Azovstal and Azov Defenders was actively working in the world. Delegations, which included both the military themselves and their relatives, visited the US Congress, Stanford University, the Knesset in Israel, diplomatic missions in Spain, France, Poland, met with world politicians, opinion leaders, the Red Cross, etc. “This, in my opinion,is a very clear indicator that Azov is not a Nazi unit, because then we would not have been so easily accepted in these buildings. You can inflate this whole bubble about neo-Nazism as much as you like, but there are concrete facts and the truth. And after everything that happened in Mariupol, what the guys went through, some of whom are still in captivity, we must return the truth to the world, “says Yulia Fedosyuk.
Ukrainian delegation of representatives of “Azov” in the USA, the Vatican, Israel/Photo courtesy of Yulia Fedosyuk
A historic decision that has no analogues
The unblocking of Azov is certainly a historical decision that has no analogues. And yet – it can give an impetus to the world, in particular to countries saturated with Russian propaganda, to stop considering the regiment as Nazis. After all, Meta, like many other giant corporations, is listened to.
This is a very cool solution. We did not have examples when such a large-scale ban of everything was filmed, which lasted for several years. “Azov” will no longer scare people, it is no longer blocked on the Meta. This is a new story that is very brightly covered. And this once again means that Russian narratives are no more. And whoever had any doubts or hesitated, let this be such a final nail so that they accurately verify “Azov” in their head, – emphasizes Anton Melnik.
However, the struggle for the truth about Azov and the war in Ukraine continues. As long as the aggressor country only increases the speed of its propaganda machine in the world, we must smash it. And not only for Ukrainian society, but also for foreigners. The word is a weapon, and social networks are a tool to convey it.
“Dissemination of information is the main thing. What the Ministry of Tsifra and the regiment started must be continued. This is not a static situation, it can change. And Russian propaganda has not gone away. We must continue so that this train only picks up speed, and Azov can no longer be compromised by the trifles with which it was done in 1414, “adds Yulia Fedosyuk.Well, it is important that until now many defenders of “Azovstal” are still in Russian captivity. And we hope that unlocking messages about the regiment will speed up the process of their return home.
So the new story of “Azov” in social networks is just beginning …
Azov commander Denis Prokopenko with the soldiers of the regiment/Photo azov.org