Russia bans Instagram, Facebook
Moscow court rules platforms are ‘extremist’
Published: Mar 22, 2022 04:22 PM
Facebook Photo:VCG

Facebook Photo:VCG

A Russian court on Monday banned Facebook and Instagram as "extremist," part of sweeping efforts by Moscow to supervise social media during the conflict in Ukraine.

The Russian authorities have accused US tech giant Meta - the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp - of tolerating "Russophobia" since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on February 24.

Facebook and Twitter have been inaccessible in Russia since early March and Instagram was blocked in the country a week ago.

Moscow's Tverskoi district court acceded 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.

There was no immediate comment from Meta.

Also on Monday, according to Russian press agencies, Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor blocked access to, the website of the French channel Euronews, and its Russian version, at the request of the prosecutor's office.

No reason was given for the action.

Earlier in March, Roskomnadzor blocked access to the BBC's main news website, with Moscow's foreign ministry warning of more retaliatory measures against the media. 

During Monday's court hearing, Russia's FSB security service accused Meta of working against the interests of Moscow and its army during the conflict.

"The activities of the Meta organization are directed against Russia and its armed forces," FSB representative Igor Kovalevsky told the court in a statement reported by Russian news agencies.

"We ask [the court] to ban Meta's activities and oblige it to implement this ruling immediately," he said.

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."

Experts said on Monday it remained unclear whether it was 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 social media.

"This means that it can be safe to have accounts and post on Instagram and Facebook," Net Freedoms Project said.

It pointed out, however, that those purchasing Facebook and Instagram advertising could be prosecuted for financing an extremist organization.

Russia's Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, in March said it was launching a probe "due to illegal calls for the murder of Russian nationals by employees of the American company Meta." 

The United Nations had voiced alarm at Facebook's decision to temporarily ease its policy on violent speech after the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, warning that it could spark "hate speech" against Russians.