Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees Call on Social Media Companies to Preserve Evidence of Possible War Crimes in Ukraine
Washington, D.C. (May 12, 2022)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Bill Keating, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Energy, the Environment, and Cyber, sent letters to Meta, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok, urging the social media platforms to preserve and archive content shared on their platforms that could potentially be used as evidence of Russian war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities in Ukraine.
“Social media platforms routinely remove graphic content that glorifies violence or human suffering or could lead to further perpetrations of violence, and have rightfully implemented graphic content policies to protect their users,” the Members wrote. “However, we are concerned that the processes by which social media platforms take down or block this content—including through automated and artificial intelligence-enabled systems—can result in the unintentional removal and permanent deletion of content that could be used as evidence of potential human rights violations such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.”
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin renewed his unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine in February 2022, Russian forces have unleashed indiscriminate violence against the people of Ukraine. During the past two months, Russian forces have reportedly targeted Ukrainian civilians at schools and residential buildings, bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol, summarily executed at least 50 civilians in the town of Bucha, and perpetrated acts of sexual violence and rape against women in Ukraine, among other atrocities.
Images and videos of these despicable acts have been shared on social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok. If verified as authentic, this content could provide the U.S. government and international human rights investigators with significant evidence to help substantiate allegations of war crimes and other atrocities committed by Russian forces against the people of Ukraine.
International human rights monitors have used social media content to investigate and prosecute war crime violations in prior conflicts, including the 2017 conviction of a Syrian man who participated in extrajudicial killings of captured Syrian soldiers. In March 2022, the United States announced that Russian forces in Ukraine had committed war crimes, and several investigations into these allegations are ongoing.
In their letters, the Members expressed concern that content posted to social media containing evidence of potential war crimes could be lost due to the automated systems and processes that social media platforms often use to remove graphic and violent posts.
“As Russia continues its unjustified war against Ukraine, the ICC, OSCE, and the U.S. government will continue to collect evidence of war crimes and other atrocities,” the Members wrote. “These organizations will require access to the entirety of information and evidence available, including content posted on social media platforms, to conduct full and complete investigations.”
In their letters, the Members requested that Meta, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok take steps to preserve content, including metadata, that could potentially provide evidence of war crimes and human rights violations in Ukraine. The Members also requested that the companies work to ensure this content is accessible, in compliance with relevant privacy laws and regulations, to international human rights investigators.
Click here to read the letter to YouTube.
Click here to read the letter to TikTok.