Russia bans Instagram and Facebook as court declares Meta an ‘extremist organisation’

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Russia bans Instagram and Facebook as court declares Meta an 'extremist organisation'

Russia launched a criminal case against its owner Meta earlier this month as Moscow fired back at the tech giant.   —   Copyright  Canva

Instagram and Facebook have been banned in Russia after their parent company Meta was declared an «extremist organisation» by a Moscow court.

WhatsApp, the most commonly-used messaging service in Russia, escaped court action after the country’s Prosecutor General decided it did not serve as a platform for spreading information publicly.

Russian authorities began to move against the US social media giant earlier this month, following a Meta decision to permit posts calling for violence against Russian leaders and military personnel in some countries, and only in the context of the war in Ukraine.

The company rowed back on the decision last week, with Meta global affairs president Nick Clegg clarifying that it was «now narrowing the focus to make it explicitly clear in the guidance that it is never to be interpreted as condoning violence against Russians in general,» in a message posted to an internal platform.

«The court has ruled to grant the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office’s lawsuit,» Judge Olga Solopova of Moscow’s Tverskoi district court said in her decision on Monday. The court’s ruling banning Instagram and Facebook is effective immediately.

Meta had asked for the court to dismiss the Russian Prosecutor General’s claims during Monday’s court hearing. The company asked for more time to prepare its defence and had also questioned the court’s authority to implement a ban on its activities.

But the company faced accusations of «Russophobia» as the government alleged it was working against the Russian military.

«The activities of Meta are directed against Russia and its armed forces. We ask that Meta be banned and that this decision be enforced immediately,» Igor Kovalevsky, a spokesperson for Russia’s FSB security service, reportedly told the court.

«There is no change at all in our hate speech policies as far as the Russian people are concerned,» Clegg said in a tweeted statement on March 11.

«We will not tolerate Russophobia or any kind of discrimination harrassment or violence towards Russians on our platform».

Meta-owned Facebook had already been blocked in Russia on March 4 after it limited access to pages belonging to state-funded media outlet RT, while access to Instagram was suspended on March 14.

Calls for violence

The temporary change that sparked outrage in Russia initally allowed users in some countries — later Ukraine only — to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the war in Ukraine.

Meta took the decision to allow some posts that calling for the deaths of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in countries including Russia, Ukraine and Poland, according to internal emails to its content moderators.

«As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders.’ We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians,» a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.

As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders.

Meta Spokesperson

In the email recently sent to moderators, Meta highlighted a change in its hate speech policy pertaining both to Russian soldiers and to Russians in the context of the invasion.

«We are issuing a spirit-of-the-policy allowance to allow T1 violent speech that would otherwise be removed under the Hate Speech policy when: (a) targeting Russian soldiers, EXCEPT prisoners of war, or (b) targeting Russians where it’s clear that the context is the Russian invasion of Ukraine (eg, content mentions the invasion, self-defense, etc),» it said in the email.

«We are doing this because we have observed that in this specific context, ‘Russian soldiers’ is being used as a proxy for the Russian military. The Hate Speech policy continues to prohibit attacks on Russians,» the email stated.

Crackdown on tech companies

Earlier this month, Russia said it was banning Facebook in the country in response to what it said were restrictions of access to Russian media on the platform. Moscow has cracked down on tech companies, including Twitter, which said it is restricted in the country, during its invasion of Ukraine, which it calls a «special operation».

Many major social media platforms have announced new content restrictions around the conflict, including blocking Russian state media RT and Sputnik in Europe, and have demonstrated carve-outs in some of their policies during the war.

Emails also showed that Meta would allow praise of the right-wing Azov battalion, which is normally prohibited, in a change first reported by The Intercept.

Meta spokesman Joe Osborne previously said the company was «for the time being, making a narrow exception for praise of the Azov Regiment strictly in the context of defending Ukraine, or in their role as part of the Ukraine National Guard».

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