Russia to block Instagram
The Russian government has announced the limiting of access to the social media platform Instagram, adding to one of its many restrictions since its invasion of Ukraine. As reported by Reuters, Russia has to blame the change in Meta’s hate speech policy, for taking the decision to block Instagram. This sudden decision has come in the midst of Putin trying to control the online space and trying to stop Russians from getting uncensored information on the war situation by avoiding the propaganda set by the state. It has also passed a new law that criminalizes independent reporting about the Russian military, with up to 15 years of prison for circulating distorted information.
The Russian government has said in its statement, that Roskomnadzor, its national internal regulator, will take steps to block the access to Instagram, saying that the platform is illegally being used to spread malicious information to undertake violent acts against the Russian citizens, which include the soldiers.
Access to the Instagram social network (owned by Meta Platforms, Inc.) in the Russian Federation will be restricted in accordance with a request by the Russian Federation's Prosecutor General's Office.
Sources inside Russia noted that the citizens still have access to Instagram, as it takes a few days for mobile service providers and internet providers to ban it from their side.
Instagram has around 60 million users in Russia and is the last to be added to the platforms with restrictions after Facebook and Twitter. On February 25, Facebook has been restricted partially in the country after it the access to several state–affiliated media outlets has been limited by it. Twitter has also tried to restore its full service in Russia after news of users getting problems in accessing the platform, has come to the surface. Since then Twitter has also developed a committed Tor Onion service for anyone who is looking to avoid censorship by the state to get access to its platform.
According Reuters sources, Meta has made temporary provisions or has allowed the expression of political hate speech against the Russian invaders, in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but has not allowed calls for violence against the Russians.
Death threats directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko would also be allowed, according to internal emails reviewed by the news agency, unless the threats also targeted others and/or included additional "indicators of credibility" (such as location and method).
According to Roskomnadzor's statement announcing the Instagram restrictions, a Meta spokesperson has confirmed the change to the hate-speech policy, claiming that the policy change allows residents of a number of countries to "post information containing calls for violence against Russian citizens, including military personnel" — who the Russian government identifies by name as Andy Stone.It's unclear whether WhatsApp, another Meta-owned company, will be subjected to similar restrictions.
It's unclear whether another Meta-owned site, WhatsApp, will be subjected to the same restrictions.
WhatsApp has chosen to remain silent on the matter. However, because it is not a public-facing social network, some reports imply it is being treated differently by Russian authorities.
However, the Russian government is going much further in one area: It also announced today that a state investigative committee in Russia has opened a criminal case against Meta and Meta employees, ostensibly using sweeping anti-terror laws to label the company a "extremist organisation" (following "illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation").
In response to Meta's policy change allowing calls for violence, Russia's investigative committee wrote today, "These actions contain signs of crimes under Articles 280 and 205.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation — (public calls for extremist activities; assistance in terrorist activities)."
"The required investigative procedures are being carried out as part of the criminal case to offer a legal evaluation to the conduct of Andy Stone and other workers of the American corporation," it added.
Russia has long maintained harsh 'anti-terror' legislation that can be used to intimidate opponents of Putin's leadership and drive self-censorship.
The maximum penalty for "extremism" — a charge that The Guardian claimed had been increasingly pursued against social media users critical at the time — was increased in a 2016 upgrade.
Russia now appears to be planning a charge of extremism against Stone, who is based in the United States, as well as other unnamed Meta employees.
Clearly, Meta staff who are located in Russia face the greatest risk of arrest and detention — underlining yet again the very real on-the-ground risks that can be attached to centralized policy decisions being applied, top down, by major global platforms.
Nick Clegg, the president of Meta, has also slammed Russia's plan to label the company an extremist organisation, defending the policy amendment to allow some hate speech against Russia within Ukraine as a necessary safeguard of "people's rights to speech as an expression of self-defence in response to a military invasion of their country" in a statement posted to Twitter.
"On our platform, we will not accept Russophobia or any type of discrimination, harassment, or violence towards Russians," Clegg said, adding that the policy change was "temporary" and "made in extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances."