Tech

Russia bans Facebook as it tightens grip on information

Russia has banned Facebook, according to the country’s state media regulator, which throttles access to information and marks the latest crackdown on social media platforms since the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a statement justifying its decision, media regulator Roskomnadzor said Facebook, which owns Meta, discriminates against Russian state and state-funded media companies by imposing restrictions on the accounts of companies such as Russia Today and the military TV station Zvezda.

“Since October 2020, there have been 26 cases of discrimination against Russian media and information resources by Facebook,” the state censorship board said.

According to local news outlets, Twitter has also been restricted in the country. Meanwhile, Roskomnadzor has also shut down major local liberal media outlets like Echo of Moscow and TV Rain, while blocking some websites, including the BBC.

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s president of global affairs, said in a statement: “Soon, millions of ordinary Russians will be cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday opportunities to connect with family and friends, and prevented from speaking out.”

He added that the company would “do whatever we can to restore our services” so users can express themselves and “organize action.”

The ban didn’t apply to Meta’s photo-sharing app Instagram or messaging app WhatsApp, which Facebook says hasn’t appeared to be affected so far.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Joe Biden administration was “deeply concerned” by the Kremlin’s decision to ban Facebook, calling it “part of an effort to cut off a range of information from its public domain.”

Major tech platforms that consider themselves politically neutral but committed to democratic freedom of expression have done so increasingly drawn into geopolitical debates. Since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, they have become part of a struggle for influence due to their position as gatekeepers of information seen by billions of consumers.

Over the past year, Russia has regularly threatened penalties such as fines and slowing down or blocking access to the platforms to trick companies into restoring or restricting content, and has imposed numerous fines on Facebook. These restrictions have since become much tighter outbreak of the conflict late last month.

Meanwhile, platforms in the West have faced calls for better covert police disinformation operations aimed at manipulating political discourse and sowing discord, and the Kremlin’s propaganda machine.

The latest restrictions from Moscow come as Facebook, Google’s YouTube, Twitter, Apple and TikTok all announced this week that they would remove RT and Sputnik from their platforms in the EU after officials at the bloc called for curbing the spread of propaganda .

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have also put up labels for Kremlin-backed media for users outside the EU, cutting off the ability for outlets to monetize ads running alongside the content. Facebook also said it has declined requests from Russia to geoblock or hide specific posts.

However, experts had warned that the moves could lead to retaliation from Moscow and feed into Russian narratives that the West is silencing its critics.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey in Washington

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