WordPress.org Removes Russian Pro-War Plugin From Directory

After considerable pushback from the Plugin Review team, WordPress.org has removed a plugin called Zamir, which was created by a Russian developer to display the Z symbol in support of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The plugin gained attention after Gravity Forms founder and CEO Carl Hancock noticed that it was listed under the “New” list of plugins for WordPress.com customers.

Hancock contacted WordPress’ plugin team to request its removal but was met with a defense for its inclusion based on what the representative deemed to be a lack of violation of the guidelines. The representative told Hancock via email that “it is permitted as long as it does not devolve into hate speech or encouraging violence.”

Outrage over the plugin being hosted on WordPress.org sparked heated conversations on Twitter, Post Status Slack, and in WordPress’ #pluginreview Slack channel where project contributors work in the open.

Mika Epstein responded to discussion in the #pluginreview channel to confirm that the plugin was allowed to be in the directory:

This is an annoying, but allowable, thing at this time. We have no restrictions about plugins that are for ‘support’, as long as they avoid hate speech, encouraging violence, and raising money for military orgs (regardless of which side).We have a number of plugins that people find personally objectionable. Someone might hate a ‘show support for LGBTQ’ plugin after all. In this case, the plugin is a ‘show support for Russia’ and has no violation to the guidelines. Much like the porn-embed plugin that a number of people hate, you don’t have to use it. Hosting plugins here does not now, nor has it ever that I’m aware of, conferred any sort of approve besides it being secure and not violating guidelines at the time of submission.

Meanwhile, the plugin had begun racking up negative reviews and Hancock had managed to get WordPress’ project leadership to take a second look. The plugin was temporarily suspended while leadership considered the matter.

The “Z” symbol has been used by the Russian government as a pro-war symbol and a propaganda tool, and is frequently seen painted on the Russian tanks and military trucks that have invaded Ukraine. It is widely regarded as a symbol of war and violence. The Zamir plugin’s header image includes a black and orange ribbon, the Ribbon of St. George, which is also a symbol of the Russian military. The symbol was banned by Ukrainian lawmakers in 2017 as a symbol of “Russia’s war and occupation of Ukraine.”

A few participants in the discussion in the #pluginreview channel seemed blissfully unaware of the symbol and flippant in response to concerns, while others who have been more immediately impacted by Russia’s aggression tried to explain what it symbolizes.

“Here is some context about what this plugin is actually in support of, from a person sitting in a city bombed by cruise missiles,” Ukrainian WordPress contributor Andrey Savchenko said.

“To be crystal fucking clear, this is way ‘morally offensive’ and ‘abuse directed at any other member of WordPress community’ under item 9 of WordPress plugin guidelines.

“For anyone not closely familiar with the context – Z and V, that started as markings on Russian military vehicles invading Ukraine, were adopted by Russian state as symbols of gleeful support for the war, denying it is a war, denying they are killing civilians, and so on.”

Many are incredulous that the plugin was even approved in the first place.

“I’m completely appalled by having such a thing even being considered for inclusion,” Bas Schuiling said in the #pluginreview channel discussion. “I’m a refugee and fled Ukraine, and this exact symbol is being used to applaud and cheer the murder on my country, friends, and family.”

“We’re watching the birth of a hate symbol in real time,” Hancock contended.  “You’d have to be living under a rock to not see that.”

After a lengthy discussion, WordPress Executive Director Josepha Haden Chomphosy decided made the call to have the plugin permanently removed from the directory, overruling the plugin team’s decision. She followed up later with a published statement, clarifying why it was removed:

The plugin’s description, “Shows the Z symbol to support Russia,” eluded initial plugin checks. While it is true that there is no current plugin guideline barring plugins that “support” political leanings, this icon symbolizes something more complicated than that. Contributors were right to report this and, with their help and the help of WordPress community members, the plugin has been removed from the directory. 

In a separate post on the Make WordPress Plugins blog, Haden Chomphosy said that since Z is an emerging symbol of hate, “it was considered a grey area in initial checks and on further review was removed.”

“As a reminder, WordPress guidelines call upon all community members–including extenders like plugin authors– to ‘be kind, helpful, and respectful,’ she said. “A symbol that is connected to an ongoing war and humanitarian crisis is none of those things.” 

Many of those initially outraged about WordPress.org hosting this plugin are satisfied with the outcome, but it highlighted a disconnect between WordPress’ values and the current processes in place for addressing symbols of hate in extensions.

“I’m glad that plugin was removed from the repository,” Hancock said. “It was absolutely the right call. But I wish that it didn’t take rattling cages for that to happen. I think comparisons that were made between this situation and others that may offend people (such as a porn embed plugin) were completely off base.

“I would hope that the WordPress Plugin Repository is not a place for plugins used to facilitate the spreading of propaganda and hate symbols that support war crimes and genocide in Ukraine. And that is exactly what the Z symbol has become.”

Haden Chomphosy’s statement indicated that the project may be reexamining its plugin review policies in the future.

“I am aware that this issue leads to natural questions about clarifying our plugin policies moving forward,” she said. “I’ll work with the community to explore our guidelines and create a clearer framework for how plugins can be evaluated in the context of current events.”

39 responses to “WordPress.org Removes Russian Pro-War Plugin From Directory”

  1. Thank you to Josepha for taking action on this issue and for her thoughtfully worded statement on the matter.

  2. Like most people I’m appalled by the war and believe we should do more to support Ukraine.

    But the plugin was deemed okay based on the repository guidelines and is protected free speech under the US constitution.

    Whilst the foundation can legally use their discretion to remove it. doing so sets a dangerous precedent, that anything that conflicts with WordPress values (which are not clearly defined) can also be arbitrarily removed.

    Free speech means that people will say things that outrage us. We need to accept that.

    To paraphrase Niemoller:

    “First they came for the arseholes, and I did not speak out—because I was not a arsehole”

    • I don’t think it’s about that. According to the article, the plugin only initially eluded the guidelines, mainly because people weren’t yet aware of the meaning of the symbol the plugin uses. And now that the community and the people who head the Plugin Directory have been made aware of what the symbol really means, then it became clear that the plugin was actually in violation of the guidelines – and so it was removed.

    • The right to free speech is not absolute, nor does it obligate any individual, community, organization, or business to provide a platform for that speech.

      As a basic human right it is more simply that the speaker shall not be legally precluded from speaking, nor punished for doing so. It is not and never been that their speech should be accommodated by others.

      Here WP.org is no more obligated to provide a platform for this than your local church would be required to let anyone who wants to speak from the dais, nor for you to be required to allow nazis to give speeches in your front yard.

      In fact Russia right now is providing a great example of where this crossed the line of violating a basic human right. Speaking out against the war on Ukraine was made illegal anywhere and everywhere in Russia and indeed people are indeed being arrested and punished just for talking about it. That is what it looks like when a government is denying a basic human right to freedom of speech vs what is happening with the plug-in where a private organization is simply saying “get off our lawn and spew your hate somewhere else”.

      We need to accept that people will say things that outage us, but we never have to sit by and continue to listen to it we can and should tell them to go away.

    • “Like most people I’m appalled by the war and believe we should do more to support Ukraine.”

      Yet here you are, dying on a hill of protecting Russian military propaganda.

      “But the plugin was deemed okay based on the repository guidelines”

      Astonishingly incorrect initial decision, which was fixed.

      “is protected free speech under the US constitution.”

      US constitution states that US Congress should make no laws limiting freedom of speech, no such thing happened here, we are fine.

      “that anything that conflicts with WordPress values (which are not clearly defined) can also be arbitrarily removed”

      Had long been codified in plugin development guidelines.

      “Free speech means that people will say things that outrage us. We need to accept that.”

      We absolutely don’t. There is no reason whatsoever to platform or accept military propaganda from a state in the middle of perpetrating aggressive war and war crimes.

      • Guys the WordPress foundations mission is “to democratize publishing through open source, General Public License (GPL) software”.

        The plugin was deemed within the guidelines and was certainly legal (which is why I mentioned the constitution). This was an arbitrary decision which should trouble everyone

        • The WordPress project is littered with arbitrary decisions.
          If you’re going to make an arbitrary decision, then this, at last, is a good reason for one.
          Look, you can have all the free speech you want. But WordPress.org isn’t a free speech platform. I had this very clearly pointed out to me by a lawyer when discussing the nature of whether the WP interpretation of GPL was valid or not – as she said “It’s their platform, and they can do what they like, frankly. They’re not obliged to provide you with a platform, no matter how unfairly you may think they run things.”
          So that was that. I learned to deal with it.

        • “The plugin was deemed within the guidelines”

          It was clarified, in no uncertain terms, that it was NOT within the guidelines: “Does this plugin violate WordPress guidelines? Yes!”

    • Absolutely. The irony here is that since the start of the Cold War, Russia and the old Soviet Union have been condemned by the West for their censorship and lack of free speech and yet here we are in 2022 and Hancock is leading the charge to cancel a plugin because it shows support for a position he disagrees with!

      Don’t care for the plugin, the answer is simple. Don’t install it. But cancel it? Woah, that’s a slippery slope with an unhappy ending.

      • The plugin is not hosted by the U.S. government. There is no violation here. And it’s not canceled. Carl’s own plugin has been doing great without WordPress.org for a decade or more. Censorship is a problem at the government level. Everybody else is free to say and do as they see fit.

        We have that luxury in the West (or, at least in the US). That doesn’t exist in Russian and it’s because of their government. People and businesses are not the problem here. The Russian government is and anybody who wants to protest that ought to be able to.

      • “The irony here is that since the start of the Cold War, Russia and the old Soviet Union have been condemned by the West for their censorship and lack of free speech”

        The plugin itself had used an euphemism expression “for peace” to support the war, because naming it a war is now a criminal offense in Russia punished by up to 15 year imprisonment. How is that for free speech.

        “Don’t care for the plugin, the answer is simple. Don’t install it. But cancel it? Woah, that’s a slippery slope with an unhappy ending.”

        There is no slope here whatsoever, because it was an extremely clear case of breaking plugin guidelines, as they long stand.

        You care for the plugin? The answer is simple – host it yourself. It is not owed a platform by the WordPress project.

    • “protected free speech under the US constitution”

      Yeah, if WordPress.org were the plugin developer’s own website or they were standing on a street corner in America. Neither is the case here. An organization can decide for themselves what to publish without violating the U.S. Constitution.

      Ukrainians are being murdered by the Russian government as we type. Allowing somebody to support that in the name of a perceived freedom isn’t very helpful to the victims. In any case, the developer is totally free to do what Mr. Hancock does and distribute the plugin himself.

      It’s amazing how much entitlement a misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution brings about.

      • There is no misunderstanding of the constitution. Yes the foundation can legally do this .

        But should it?

        The plugins is legal (under the constitution), it was within the guidelines, and the mission statement of the foundation is to democratise publishing democratize publishing through open source, General Public License (GPL) software.

        Deplatforming the plugin is arbitrary and (at least in spirit) against foundations mission

        • You know what… I’m OK with de-platforming hate.
          I dislike the libertarian ideal that we should all be free to do whatever we like, without consequence to ourselves. That’s merely the oppressor trying to dominate the oppressed. It stinks.

        • By that logic a plugin that supports nazis with the swastika symbol should be allowed as well. Which is a good thing we don’t. “Democratizing publishing” does not remotely even mean that you’re entitled to having something hosted on .org.

          • Actually it might.

            Foundations exist to further the aims stated in the foundations rules or constitution.

            Unfortunately I can’t find the foundations constitution on the website. The mission statement and philosophy are there though and talk about furthering gpl software. Dehosting legal gpl software seems antithetical to that.

            Btw the foundations website is really lacking . The rules/constitution, current financials, current annual report, and current board are not linked (as far as I can tell) This may not be legally required but it is best practice for any non profit is to have these easily available.

    • The dangerous precedent argument here is a fallacy that simply does not hold water.
      Because this, then that. Sorry, just plain wrong.

    • The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution has nothing to do with the WordPress Plugin library. The plugin is not “protected free speech” in the sense that it can just exist anywhere with zero repercussions. The first amendment says that Congress can’t make laws limiting free speech. It does not say that private organizations cannot limit free speech. Private organizations can absolutely have their own rules and guidelines on what is acceptable speech. So limiting symbols that represent a support for ongoing violence is 100% within the law and within common sense.

      There’s no “dangerous precedent” here. Limiting symbols that represent a support for ongoing violence and war is the right call. It’s not about undefined values that are randomly enforced. Disallowing support of ongoing violence and war should be a no-brainer.

      • There have been plenty of good wars and a “Support our troops” plugin would be a pro war

        We all disagree with Putins aggression and find the plugin distasteful. But let’s acknowledge the decision does create a precedent.

        The irony is the plugin would have disappeared into obscurity with the 40,000 other plugins with zero installations if the mob had not found it.

    • You misunderstand protected speech under the US constitution. The 1st Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” Congress. WordPress is not Congress, WordPress is not the US government. WordPress is not in violation of freedom of speech by banning a plugin. In fact, the Supreme Court has held that boycotts are constitutionally protected speech. Free speech does indeed say that people are going to say things that offend us, and it ALSO says that we are free to respond to their odiousness by exercising free speech in the form of calling them out, asking them to leave our house, boycotting them or their products… Courts have held that all of those responses are also free speech.

    • “But the plugin was deemed okay based on the repository guidelines and is protected free speech under the US constitution.”

      Germany (Bavaria) starts to forbid the usage of the sign Z.
      https://www.sueddeutsche.de/bayern/konflikte-muenchen-fuer-russisches-z-zeichen-drohen-rechtliche-konsequenzen-dpa.urn-newsml-dpa-com-20090101-220325-99-673646

      Also the swastika is forbidden in Austria and Germany (in most of the cases) – and this does not violate the right of free speech!

    • The basis of your argument suggests that a church should support my right to perform satanic rituals upon their altar.

      You are confusing freedom to believe and express your opinions in your own space and the rights of others not to support your view or to offer a platform from which to transmit it. Freedom of speech also comes with the responsibility to accept that others may react to your opinion and do something as a result. This is not “cancel culture”, but them exercising their own freedoms.

      A final, more general point. If organisations believe that they can promote the democratising of the web and keep it free from undue control, commercial and political interference, whilst “not doing politics” then they are mistaken.

  3. I’m prefectly fine with this specific removal even if I am a libertarian. Private organisations have the right to act according how they see fit and what they think benefit their interests as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. Parts of the community have wanted to ban various people etc on political grounds before but the WP organisations themselves have stood their ground and not implemented such policies from what I have observed. I don’t think this case sets a precident, it can be interpreted to be inline with previous policies.

    If plugins and themes get removed because they have Russian language, Russian cats and so forth then it is just dumb. Organisation have the right to do so, but it woud just be dumb.

  4. The dangerous precedent is not created by the letter Z.

    And the fact that the plugins with which they raise funds for the continuation of the conflict are still
    in the wordpress directory.

    here – https://plugins.trac.wordpress.org/browser/standwithukraine/trunk/templates/text.php?rev=2694395#L23

    I’m afraid I’m expressing a general opinion when I say that no military appeals are unacceptable in the wordpress community, regardless of the country

    • ” continuation of the conflict”

      Translation from Russian euphemism: “Ukraine should have given up immediately, how dare they not”.

      “I’m afraid I’m expressing a general opinion”

      I am afraid you are not.

  5. In context, the “Z” symbol is representative of not only the ongoing and unjustified invasion of the Ukraine by Russia, but has become cemented with the actions of Russian forces targeting and murdering civilians.

    Letting this symbol become intertwined with the notion of supporting Russia as a whole is a propaganda tactic to confuse the narrative.

    This was the right call. It is not a “slippery slope” situation. It is rightly calling out a plugin attempting to subvert public opinion in the community.

  6. The WordPress community removes only Russian plugins, but leaves those in which they collect donations for the war. This is a road with a bad end

  7. Several comments are incorrect when they suggest that the right to free speech doesn’t apply to non-governmental organizations. In USA, “private” businesses that are considered a “public square” are bound to allow freedom of speech. The question is, is the WP plugin directory considered a public square? They’re acting like the answer is no. But I think that’s debatable.

    • Whether or not the WP plugin directory is a public square is only relevant if Congress (or state or local govt) is trying to block access to WP plugin directory. Congress can’t remove the Z public from WP plugin directory. WordPress can.

      Re public square: in an 8-0 decision, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2017 that the Internet is similar to a public forum and that social media is protected under the First Amendment, which guarantees every person’s right to free speech.

      What that meant, in that decision, (which was about a N.C. sex offender being denied access to social media where minors might be found), is that the government cannot limit who can log onto social media channels, including those convicted of crimes.

      While the internet is deemed a public square, Facebook, Twitter, other social media companies in the public square are private companies. The First Amendment does not prohibit private individuals, companies and employers from restricting speech. The social media platforms responsible for suspending President Trump’s accounts are privately owned and operated, and they are free to limit the content on their sites without implicating the First Amendment.

      So the government could not prohibit Lester Gerard Packingham from accessing the internet (and whatever he might find on the internet) individual social media companies could indeed suspend his account, as they do to thousands of users every day.

      And, finally, boycotts are protected speech. The right to engage in commerce, social intercourse, and friendship includes the implied right not to engage in commerce, social intercourse, and friendship.

      • I was implying the precedent set in “PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins,” the shopping center being a private business did not have the right to restrict speech on their business location, according to the Supreme Court.

        • ‘I was implying the precedent set in “PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins,”’

          …that applies to a Californian mall, so they can go host their Russian military propaganda plugin in one? 😀

  8. For people who seem unable to grasp why this plugin is not acceptable, may I suggest a similar plugin that maybe is a bit more clearly vile because it is rooted in more obvious symbols of hate.

    Let’s suppose someone created s plugin to add a swastika to sites in order to promote white pride. Let’s assume the creator created a banner using the confederate flag.

    Then this plugin was shown to tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of admins as a new plugin complete with the nazi symbol and confederate flag.

    I think most of us can agree that would be a symbol of hate. It may not be promoting violence directly, but most of us are capable of understanding how that has no place in our community. Maybe it is allowed under the US constitution, but it is illegal in Germany and there are WordPress sites in Germany, but legalities aside, it is more than just offensive, it is a symbol of hate and WordPress shouldn’t be promoting it.

    This is the same.

    • This will be my last comment but need to be said

      History has shown that where free speech is available that good ideas triumph (in the long term).

      This is the same ethos as gpl software (free as in freedom), which is what the foundation should be promoting, and was the wisdom of the founders.

      The alternative gives power to people and history shows such power will be abused. It will start with removing Z plugins, then will be Trump or Assange supporters, then who knows.

      If seeing a very occasional plugin that represents a view that you (and I) find disgusting like a Z or a swastika it is the price we pay for something more important.

      • “History has shown that where free speech is available that good ideas triumph (in the long term).”

        This is a horrendous both-siding of the issue, which in plain words tries to reputation wash support for war crimes as somehow meaningful and necessary part of discourse.

        The paradox of tolerance is that intolerant views only want and lead to destruction of the tolerant principles that would accept them.

        Community that stands up for fascisms is fascist, not wonderfully free.

        “This is the same ethos as gpl software (free as in freedom), which is what the foundation should be promoting”

        Far all its flaws never knew GPL to support war crimes. :D

        “If seeing a very occasional plugin that represents a view that you (and I) find disgusting”

        You are awfully invested in protecting and excusing something you supposedly find disgusting here.

  9. Private businesses are never considered “public square”. Neither the NY Times nor Facebook is in any way obligated to publish anything and everything you want to on their platforms. Nor offline is a private business required to allow you to speak on their property. They all can choose to block any and all content they feel like, whether it be WordPress with a lower case P or calls for violence.

    That’s not to say folks haven’t argued the opposite, just that it’s never held up in court.

    These businesses are still subject to a lot of equal protection and non-discrimination requirements around access, but that is always deemed very different than unrestrained use.

    Here’s a nice summary https://www.talksonlaw.com/briefs/does-the-first-amendment-require-social-media-platforms-to-grant-access-to-all-users

    The .org plugin directory should continue to curate the plugins listed there (perhaps even more than they currently do).

    • The WordPress foundation is not a business, it’s a non profit. Although typically the same rules apply. The repository is clearly not a “public square”

      However in addition non profits are obligated to further the aims that are stated in their rules or constitution. In fact board members can be held liable if they do not (although a lot of latitude is given). But as “Educated Layman” commented the foundation does not even publish the constitution or rules on the website (something even an average PTA can manage). So it hard to tell

      However whether they can (almost certainly), is totally different question to whether they should. Imo it sets a dangerous precedent for the repository to take any decision based on politics (even if I agree that view being expressed are disgusting).

  10. Russian State forces took our platform for a ride. And you’re all arguing about free speech, this is about security of 43% of the web, not democratised publishing.

    Think for a moment about what happens TO ALL OF US when the reputation of WordPress’s security gets called into question, again.

    Bad guys, used our platform to do bad things. This is not ok. It cannot happen again. We need to stop being naïve. We need to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

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