February 24, 2022 – Facebook reverses policy and allows praise of neo-Nazi Ukrainian Azov Battalion, if it fights Russia

In Email/Dossier Investigations, Featured Timeline Entries by Katie Weddington

Facebook banned the Ukrainian far-right group, Azov Battalion, over ‘Hate Speech’ in 2019, (Photo credit: Radio Free Europe)

“Facebook will temporarily allow its billions of users to praise the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi military unit previously banned from being freely discussed under the company’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, The Intercept has learned.

The policy shift, made this week, is pegged to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and preceding military escalations. The Azov Battalion, which functions as an armed wing of the broader Ukrainian white nationalist Azov movement, began as a volunteer anti-Russia militia before formally joining the Ukrainian National Guard in 2014; the regiment is known for its hardcore right-wing ultranationalism and the neo-Nazi ideology pervasive among its members. Though it has in recent years downplayed its neo-Nazi sympathiesthe group’s affinities are not subtle: Azov soldiers march and train wearing uniforms bearing icons of the Third Reich; its leadership has reportedly courted American alt-right and neo-Nazi elements; and in 2010, the battalion’s first commander and a former Ukrainian parliamentarian, Andriy Biletsky, stated that Ukraine’s national purpose was to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans].” With Russian forces reportedly moving rapidly against targets throughout Ukraine, Facebook’s blunt, list-based approach to moderation puts the company in a bind: What happens when a group you’ve deemed too dangerous to freely discuss is defending its country against a full-scale assault?

Neo-Nazi leader Arsen Avakov was Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs from 2014-2021 and that included control of their National Guard. (Photo: Radio Free Europe)

According to internal policy materials reviewed by The Intercept, Facebook will “allow praise of the Azov Battalion when explicitly and exclusively praising their role in defending Ukraine OR their role as part of the Ukraine’s National Guard.” Internally published examples of speech that Facebook now deems acceptable include “Azov movement volunteers are real heroes, they are a much needed support to our national guard”; “We are under attack. Azov has been courageously defending our town for the last 6 hours”; and “I think Azov is playing a patriotic role during this crisis.”

The materials stipulate that Azov still can’t use Facebook platforms for recruiting purposes or for publishing its own statements and that the regiment’s uniforms and banners will remain as banned hate symbol imagery, even while Azov soldiers may fight wearing and displaying them. In a tacit acknowledgment of the group’s ideology, the memo provides two examples of posts that would not be allowed under the new policy: “Goebbels, the Fuhrer and Azov, all are great models for national sacrifices and heroism” and “Well done Azov for protecting Ukraine and it’s white nationalist heritage.” (Read more: The Intercept, 2/24/2022) (Archive)

(Timeline editor’s note: According to recent statements by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, extreme right, white supremacist militias are considered the number one threat to America’s national security. So it’s odd they are now to be accepted and cheered for their continuous attacks on the Russia friendly citizens in Ukraine since 2014.)