Russia blocks Facebook and Twitter in mounting crackdown on independent information sources

Russia also cracking down on independent media inside country

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Friday 04 March 2022 20:11
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Russian authorities are reportedly blocking access to Twitter, Facebook, and other popular social media and news sites as part of a growing crackdown on independent sources of information as the invasion of Ukraine continues.

The Russia communications agency Roskomnadzor announced the restrictions via Facebook on Friday, citing what it said were 26 instances of “discrimination against Russian media and information resources by Facebook” in recent years, as well Facebook’s fact-checking labels and other restrictions on Russian state media outlets.

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The social network condemned the new policy, arguing it would cut off average people from important forms of social and political contact.

“Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out,” wrote Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Facebook’s parent company Meta in a statement on Friday. “We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they remain available to people to safely and securely express themselves and organise for action.”

Russia citizens will also see their access to Twitter blocked, Germany’s Der Spiegel reported.

The shutdown apparently began as early as last week, according to a report from internet monitoring group NetBlocks, which noted failed and massively slowed connections between every major Russian internet provider and the social media site.

Twitter has called for Russia to maintain “free and open access” to social media sites.

“We believe people should have free and open access to the Internet, which is particularly important during times of crisis,” the company wrote in a statement on Twitter last week.

The new limits are the latest in a back-and-forth information war that has accompanied the ground war in Ukraine.

Earlier this week, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, and YouTube both blocked access to Russia state-owned media outlets Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik in the European Union.

On Tuesday, television distributor DirecTV dropped RT’s programming.

Inside of Russia, it’s getting increasingly difficult to access independent information sources about the Ukrainian effort or voice critical opinions about the war.

On Friday, Russian lawmakers advanced a new law that would make sharing “fake news” about the country’s military punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

This week, it also blocked two outlets known for their solid journalism: TV Rain, Russia’s last independent news network, and Echo of Moscow, a long-running radio station.

Many reporters at TV Rain have fled the country.

Novaya Gazeta, a Russian paper helmed by Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist Dmitry Muratov, announced on Friday it would remove stories about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, out of safety concerns for its staff.

“Military censorship in Russia has quickly moved into a new phase: from the threat of blocking and closing publications (almost fully implemented) it has moved to the threat of criminal prosecution of both journalists and citizens who spread information about military hostilities that is different from the press releases of the Ministry of Defense,” the paper told readers, adding, “There is no doubt that this threat will be realised.”

The new climate has also challenged foreign outlets reporting in Russia.

Following the announcement of the “fake news” law, the BBC said it would suspend its operations in Russia.

On Wednesday, the Russian government warned Voice of America its Russian site would be blocked unless it stopped covering Ukraine, though the outlet has resisted threats so far.

Russia has also arrested thousands of people who have protested the war inside the country.

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