A Russian court banned, on Monday March 21, the social networks Facebook and Instagram on the territory of Russia for “extremism”. A decision which goes in the direction of the requests made by the authorities, who seek to tighten their control of information in full military invasion of Ukraine.
However, this ban does not apply to the messaging application WhatsApp, which also belongs to Meta, the court having found that it did not serve as a means of “public dissemination of information”.
This is a symbolic decision: Facebook and Instagram had already been blocked for several days by Russian Internet service providers, as well as many other sites, including certain media. On March 11, the Russian authorities had requested that Meta be classified as an organization “extremist”, accusing it of having relaxed its regulations to allow the publication of violent messages against the army and the Russian leaders in connection with the military offensive in Ukraine. Facebook had indeed announced, on March 10, that it was going to show” indulgence “ in his moderation of certain messages hostile to Russian troops and Russian actions in Ukraine. According to the Russian news agency TASS, a representative of Meta told the hearing on Monday that the company had since changed its regulations to ban “Russophobia and calls for violence”.
In court, the prosecution reiterated its request for a ban, considering that Meta had justified “terrorist actions” and wanted to encourage “hatred and enmity” towards the Russians. The Russian security services (FSB) also demanded, on Monday, the prohibition “immediate” from Facebook and Instagram. These social networks are therefore now “banned for extremist activity”the court added in a statement posted on Telegram.
Instagram, very popular in Russia
In principle, according to Alexander Khinshtein, elected to a Russian parliamentary committee, users of these social networks (who would continue to connect to it by using, for example, a VPN, that is to say a tool which makes it possible to partially hide their online identity) should not however be prosecuted for “complicity with an extremist organization” . But, in the long term, according to lawyer Pavel Chikov, who spoke on Telegram and with TASS, individuals and companies could on the other hand potentially be condemned. if they buy ads on Facebook and Instagram.
Clothes, furniture, massages or language courses… Instagram was a crucial online sales tool for many Russian companies, as well as for artists, who depended on their visibility on this platform, in Russia and abroad, to find customers.
These bans could also have an impact on opposition movements, which, shunned by mainstream media controlled by the Kremlin, regularly publish on these platforms. Like the opponent Alexeï Navalny, imprisoned, and whose team continues to feed his Instagram account.
A decision that could have a following: last week, Roskomnadzor, the Russian telecommunications regulator, accused the American company Google and its video service, YouTube, of activities “terrorists”the first step towards a possible blockage.
At the same time, the authorities introduced two new criminal offenses at the beginning of March: one for the dissemination of information “discrediting” the Russian army, the other for the dissemination of information “lies” on Russian troops.
The latter offense carries penalties of up to fifteen years in prison. It particularly worries opponents and the independent media, who fear prosecution for any denunciation of the offensive. At least three people who had posted messages denouncing the war in Ukraine have already been prosecuted for this reason.
Update March 21, 6:50 p.m.: Corrected a wording error in the characterization of Russia’s sanctions against Meta.