Russia Bans Facebook and Instagram under ‘Extremism’ Law
The court in Moscow labels parent company Meta as ‘extremist’ amid crackdown on western media
Access to Facebook and Instagram was already blocked earlier this month when Meta stated it was loosening its standards against hate speech directed towards the Russian military and President Vladimir Putin in reference to the country’s war in Ukraine. Later, Meta clarified that the loosened limits would only apply to those posting from within Ukraine.
Facebook and Instagram, which are both popular among Russians, were accused of “carrying out terrorist operations” by a Moscow court. It did not, however, restrict Meta’s WhatsApp messenger program since it “was a method of communication, not a source of information.”
The Russian security service FSB accused Meta of establishing an “alternative world” in which “hate towards Russians was stoked” during a hearing in Moscow on Monday.
“The Meta organization’s operations are directed against Russia and its military forces,” FSB official Igor Kovalevsky told the court, according to TASS, the Russian state news agency.
Previously, extremist groups like the Taliban, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and an organization run by imprisoned Kremlin foe Aleksei Navalny were targeted under the same rule.
Because hundreds of thousands of Russians have attempted to avoid the social media ban by using a VPN, Russian prosecutors declared in court that they will not seek to punish Russian residents and organizations who use the two forbidden sites.
On Monday, Kovalevsky told the court that “the usage of Meta’s goods by individuals and legal entities should not be construed as involvement in extremist activity.” He went on to say, “Individuals will not be held accountable for using Meta’s services.”
It was unclear if Russians and international firms who bought advertising on Facebook and Instagram might be charged with “funding an extremist organization” under Russian legislation.
According to TASS, Meta’s lawyer, Victoria Shagina, said in court that the company was opposed to any kind of Russophobia and did not engage in extremist activities.
The decision to classify Meta as “extreme” comes as Russia continues to tighten down on protestors, independent news sources, and international social media networks in unprecedented ways.
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The Russian parliament enacted a measure earlier this month that makes distributing purposely “fake” news about the military punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
“Since the commencement of the special operation in Ukraine, the authorities have attempted to maintain complete control over the country’s information domain. “We should expect further restrictions,” said Alexander Isavnin, a member of the Russian Pirate Party and an online privacy advocate.
“The decision to prohibit Meta is also a last warning notice to YouTube, the country’s last major surviving western platform,” Isavnin said, referring to recent criticism of YouTube from Russia’s communications regulator and lawmakers.
Last Friday, Russia’s communication watchdog lambasted YouTube for committing “terrorist activities” by permitting adverts on the video-sharing network that may “damage Russian residents.”
“The activities of the YouTube administration are terroristic in nature and pose a threat to Russian people’s lives and health,” the regulator stated in a statement.