A Russian court has on Monday, March 21, 2022, banned Facebook and Instagram as “extremist”, part of sweeping measures implemented by Moscow to crack down on social media during the country’s invasion on Ukraine.
The Russian authorities have accused US tech giant, Meta, the parent company of the trio: Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp of tolerating “Russophobia” since President Vladimir Putin, sent troops into Ukraine on Thursday, February 24, 2022.
Facebook and Twitter have been inaccessible in Russia since early March 2022 and Instagram was blocked in the country a week ago. Moscow’s Tverskoi District court assented to a request from prosecutors for the two social media platforms to be banned for “carrying out extremist activities”.
It ruled that Meta’s WhatsApp messenger service would not be prohibited because it is not used to post public statements. But so far, there is no immediate comment from Meta. During Monday’s hearing, Russia’s FSB security service accused Meta of working against the interests of Moscow and its army during the ongoing invasion in Ukraine.
FSB Representative, Igor Kovalevsky, during the court hearing, disclosed to the court, that it [FSB] found some activities by the Meta directed against its forces.
“The activities of the Meta organisation are directed against Russia and its armed forces. We ask (the court) to ban Meta’s activities and oblige it to implement this ruling immediately.”FSB Representative, Igor Kovalevsky
Meta announced on March 10, 2022, that the platforms would allow statements like “death to Russian invaders” but not credible threats against civilians. But in what appeared to be damage control, Meta’s Global Affairs President, Nick Clegg, later said the laxer rules would only apply to people posting from inside Ukraine.
Is posting safe?
In court, a Meta representative said that “following public debate” the company had now changed its policy and deemed that “Russophobia and calls for violence against Russian citizens are unacceptable”.
From the viewpoint of experts on Monday, March 21, 2022, it remains unclear whether it is now illegal for ordinary Russians to post on Facebook and Instagram.
Net Freedoms Project said Russians could use Meta’s social media “carefully”, for now. The rights project noted that the prosecution said Russians cannot be prosecuted for simply using the said social media platforms.
“This means that it can be safe to have accounts and post on Instagram and Facebook.”Net Freedoms Project
However, having such right, Net Freedom Project cautioned that those purchasing Facebook and Instagram advertisements could be prosecuted for financing an extremist organisation.
According to Russia’s Investigative Committee (responsible for probing major crimes), this month (March), revealed that it is launching a probe “due to illegal calls for the murder of Russian nationals by employees of the American company Meta”.
The US company, Meta, can boast of billions of users globally across its apps. Facebook and Instagram were widely used in Russia and the latter, WhatsApp, is the most popular social media platform among young Russians. For many small Russian businesses, Instagram was a key platform for advertising, processing sales and communicating with clients.
According to the United Nations (UN), it has voiced alarm at Facebook’s decision to temporarily ease policy on violent speech after Moscow’s invasion on Ukraine, warning that it could spark “hate speech” against Russians.