Russia to Block Instagram Over ‘Death to Invaders’ Posting Rule | Russo-Ukrainian War

Russia announced plans to block access to Instagram and launched a criminal case against its owner, Meta Platforms Inc, after the company said it would allow posts calling for “the death of Russian invaders”.

Friday’s decision is the latest in Russia’s confrontation with US-based social media platforms that has escalated since its invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow has already restricted access to Twitter and blocked Facebook, which is also owned by Meta.

Russia’s communications and media regulator Roskomnadzor said it was restricting access to the hugely popular Instagram because the platform broadcasts “calls to commit acts of violence against Russian citizens, including military personnel”.

The ban will take effect on Monday, he said, giving active Instagram users “time to upload their photos and videos to other social networks and let their followers know.”

In response, Meta’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, defended what he described as a temporary decision “made under extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances.”

“I want to be perfectly clear: our policies are focused on protecting people’s rights to speech as an expression of self-defense in response to a military invasion of their country,” he said in a statement.

“The point is that if we were to apply our standard content policies without any adjustments, we would now remove content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury against invading military forces, which would rightly be considered unacceptable.”

He noted that the policy only applies in Ukraine and that the company has not changed its policies against hate speech targeting Russians.

“Illegal calls”

But Russia’s Investigative Committee, which investigates major crimes, had already said it was opening an investigation into Meta, and prosecutors pushed for the Silicon Valley giant to be branded an “extremist”.

“A criminal case has been opened… in connection with illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation by employees of the American company Meta, owner of the social networks Facebook and Instagram,” the committee said. , which reports directly to Russian. President Vladimir Putin.

It was not immediately clear what the consequences of the criminal case might be.

Meta’s Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp services are all popular in Russia, with 7.5 million, 50.8 million and 67 million users respectively last year, according to researcher Insider Intelligence.

Russian news agency RIA, citing a source, said the legal measures will not affect WhatsApp because the messaging app is considered a means of communication and not a means of posting information.

Meta’s relaxation of its rules sparked controversy almost immediately, and the United Nations expressed concern, warning it could lead to “hate speech” against Russians.

Human Rights Office spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell said the policy lacked clarity, which “could certainly contribute to hate speech directed at Russians in general”.

Contrasting views

Meta, which has billions of users worldwide through its apps, has already struggled with what it would allow people to post in times of upheaval.

In July 2021, the company temporarily allowed posts calling for “the death of Khamenei”, referring to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during protests that rocked the country.

Tech platforms have had to deal with a host of thorny issues related to the war in Ukraine, such as when US Senator Lindsey Graham called for the assassination of Russian President Vladimir Putin in a TV interview and on Twitter.

“The only way this ends is if someone in Russia takes this guy down,” Graham’s March 3 tweet read, which Twitter did not remove.

Meta’s decision elicited very contrasting opinions.

“The policy is about calls for violence against Russian soldiers,” said Emerson Brooking, disinformation expert at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

“A call for violence here, by the way, is also a call for resistance because Ukrainians are resisting a violent invasion,” he added.

But some have expressed deep concerns, such as Lehigh University professor Jeremy Littau, who tweeted: “‘We don’t allow hate speech except against certain people from a certain country’, that’s one hell of a Pandora’s box.”

Facebook and other US tech giants moved to penalize Russia for the attack on Ukraine, and Moscow also moved to block access to the main social media network as well as Twitter.

Russia thus joins the very small club of countries barred from the largest social network in the world, along with China and North Korea.

Since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last month, Russian authorities have also stepped up pressure on independent media, even as press freedom in the country is already rapidly declining.

Moscow blocked Facebook and restricted Twitter on the same day last week it backed imposing prison sentences on media publishing “false information” about the military.

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