On the 11th of March 2022, Russian communication agency, Roskomnadzor announced that Instagram will be banned from Russia starting Monday, 14th of March 2022. That will give active Russian Instagram users about 48 hours to backup their media and notify contacts and subscribers about their hiatus.
Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram said via Twitter that 80 million Russians will be cut off from each other and from the rest of the world. He ended his tweet by saying “This is wrong.”
Russia’s ban of the social media platform comes as a response to reports of Instagram’s parent company, Meta allowing content in Ukraine that glorify violence against Russian soldiers. The Thursday before Russia announced the ban, Reuters received external emails sent to Meta content moderators, detailing the policy change.
A paragraph from the email read, “We are issuing a spirit-of-the-policy allowance to allow T1 violent speech that would otherwise be removed under the Hate Speech policy when: (a) targeting Russian soldiers, EXCEPT prisoners of war, or (b) targeting Russians where it’s clear that the context is the Russian invasion of Ukraine (e.g., content mentions the invasion, self-defence, etc.).”
Moreover, the email explains that content calling for a leader’s death like Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is permitted. However, if it’s accompanied by “other targets” or sensitive information like location or method, it will be flagged and removed.
This temporary exception to Meta’s violence and incitement policy only applies to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
When reached for a comment, a Meta spokesperson replied to The Verge with a statement that reads, “As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders.’ We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”
Russian officials interpreted the news as “illegal calls for the murder of Russian nationals” by Meta employees. As such, the prosecutor general’s office called for Meta to be labelled an extremist group and launched a criminal probe into the company. Their findings alleged that Instagram is becoming a medium for “organising riots accompanied by violence.”
Meta quickly clarified its intentions via a statement by its president of global affairs, Nick Clegg. He said the change to the policy was necessitated by the need to protect the people’s right to speech as an expression of self-defence in response to a military invasion of their country. Without the change, “we would now be removing content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury to the Russian invasion, which would rightly be viewed as unacceptable,” Clegg explained.
He reassured that “We have no quarrel with the Russian people. We will not tolerate Russophobia or any kind of discrimination, harassment, or violence towards Russians on our platform.”
Despite everything Meta has said, it seems like Russia has shown no signs to withdraw the ban. Just last week, Facebook was booted from Russia for placing restrictions on state-backed Russian news outlets, Russian Today (RT) and Sputnik among others. Russia also cited the 26 cases of discrimination against Russian media and information resources by Facebook since October 2020. According to a data-tracking company known as Statista, Facebook had about 70 million active users in Russia by 2021.
Meta’s chief financial officer, Dave Wehner revealed that Russia accounted for 1.5% of the USD114.9 billion (RM482 billion) in sales last year. This means that Russia contributed an estimated USD1.7 billion (RM7.1 billion) in revenue. Therefore, the ban on Facebook and Instagram will result in a loss of USD4.7 million (RM19.7 million) a day for the tech giant.
Though Russia is preparing to label Meta an extremist organisation, it seems to be excluding WhatsApp from the ban. On Friday, 11th of March 2022, a source told Russian news agency RIA Novosti, “The WhatsApp messenger will not be affected by the measures. Since this is a means of communication, not a source of placement.” Based on a survey conducted by consulting firm Deloitte in July 2021, 82% of Russians over the age of 14 use WhatsApp.
Russia has also imposed a ban on Twitter on 24th February, the day it started its invasion of Ukraine. To work around the restriction, Twitter resorted to leveraging the dark web. To access Twitter in Russia, users can download the Tor Browser, a project funded by the US and Swedish governments, and replace .com with .onion.
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