Russia is blocking Facebook from Meta Platforms Inc, the country’s communications regulator said on Friday, in response to what it said were restrictions on access to Russian media on the platform.
The regulator, Roskomnadzor, said there had been 26 cases of discrimination against Russian media by Facebook since October 2020, with limited access to state-backed channels like RT and the RIA news agency.
Roskomnadzor also declared a block on Twitter on Friday, saying he had cut off access to the platform in accordance with the decision of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. The watchdog has previously accused Twitter of failing to remove content banned by Russian authorities and slowing access to it.
The moves are a major escalation in an ongoing showdown between big tech companies and Russia, which in recent years has imposed a slew of fines and services hampered by slowdowns. Tensions have escalated amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special operation”.
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Meta’s head of global affairs, Nick Clegg, said the company will continue to do everything possible to restore its services.
“Soon, millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their daily means of connecting with family and friends, and prevented from speaking out,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter. .
Meta in a blog post said it was working to keep its services available “as much as possible”, but had stopped showing ads to users in Russia and banned Russian advertisers from showing ads anywhere in the world. the world “due to operating difficulties in Russia at this time.”
Tech companies such as Alphabet Inc’s Google have also suspended advertising in Russia amid growing demands for censorship.
Last week, Moscow said it was partially restricting access to Facebook, a move the company said came after it refused a government request to stop independent fact-checking of several Russian state media outlets. . On Saturday, Twitter also said its service was restricted for some Russian users.
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Big tech companies came under pressure to respond to the Feb. 24 invasion, which led to economic sanctions against Moscow by governments around the world. Russian state-run media has become a key flashpoint between Moscow and social media platforms during the conflict.
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Meta said this week it had restricted access to RT and Sputnik across the European Union and was globally downgrading the content of Russian state-controlled media’s Facebook pages and Instagram accounts. , as well as publications containing links to these media on Facebook.
Russia has taken several steps to suppress foreign media in recent days. He has cut off access to the websites of several news outlets, including the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty for broadcasting what he considers to be false information about his actions in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government had asked Meta and other platforms during the conflict to withdraw their services from Russia. Online discourse experts and rights advocates have raised concerns about the impact of the blocking of online services for Russian citizens trying to organize or obtain information.
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Meta had around 7.5 million users on Facebook in Russia last year and 122.2 million users on its other services, including Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, according to Insider Intelligence estimates. The main Russian-based social network, VK, had 63 million users, the researcher estimated.
Popular VPN apps have been downloaded more than 1.3 million times in Russia since its invasion of Ukraine began, according to data from researcher AppFigures, which described the figure as a major increase.
Meta was also one of several tech companies facing possible punitive action in Russia after failing to open local offices and take other steps required by a communications law passed this summer.
Tech companies around the world have pulled out of Russia in response to demands from governments or to signal support for Ukraine. US internet service provider Cogent Communications said on Friday it was cutting internet service to Russian customers.
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Earlier this week, enterprise software giant Oracle Corp announced it was suspending all operations in Russia, while rival SAP SE said it would suspend all sales in the country. A Ukrainian government official had tweeted at both companies asking for help.
Roskomnadzor said in its statement that Meta had restricted access to state-backed media accounts in recent days, citing RT, Sputnik, the RIA news agency, the Defense Ministry’s Zvezda TV and gazeta websites. .ru and slow.ru.
He said the restrictions violate key principles of freedom of information and unhindered access of Russian Internet users to Russian media.
— with an Associated Press file