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Russia moves to ban Instagram as it designates Meta an ‘extremist organisation’

Meta recently changed its hate speech policy to allow for posts calling for violence again the Russian military

Adam Smith
Friday 11 March 2022 15:28
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Russia has moved to ban Instagram, as well as designating Meta an “extremist organisation”.

The new restrictions come shortly after Meta – which owns Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook – announced that it would be breaking with existing policy and allowing users to call for the death of Russian armed forces.

The designation for the technology giant came from the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation, according to a report from Interfax.

“In accordance with the Federal Law ‘On Countering Extremist Activity’, the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation sent an application to the court to recognize Meta Platforms Inc. as an extremist organization and ban its activities in the territory of the Russian Federation,” the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation said today.

WhatsApp “will not be affected by measures against Meta, since it is a means of communication not posting information”, a source told state-owned agency RIA Novosti, contradicting initial reports.

The Russian government had already taken action against Facebook - banning it in the country - but Instagram and WhatsApp are much more popular services, especially for young people, and so had, until now, postponed action against those platforms.

Reports also state that Meta is looking to walk back its recent policy change that would allow calls for violence against the Russian military.

“In light of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, we made a temporary exception for those affected by war, to express sentiments toward invading armed forces such as ‘death to the Russian invaders’”, Meta said in a statement.

This change is primarily directed towards countries involved in the conflict and neighbouring European countries, but only with specific regard to the invasion. Meta said it would continue to remove hate speech directed at Russians in general, and from territories outside of the immediate conflict.

Controversially, however, these “temporary measures” also allowed for praise of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, which has admitted to recruiting neo-Nazis and is currently being armed in the fight against Russia.

“For the time being, we are making a narrow exception for praise of the Azov Regiment strictly in the context of defending Ukraine, or in their role as part of the Ukraine National Guard. But we are continuing to ban all hate speech, hate symbolism, praise of violence, generic praise,  support, or representation of the Azov Regiment, and any other content that violates our community standards”, Meta told The Independent.

To bypass national restrictions, Russian citizens have been using VPNs at an astonishing rate. Reports indicate that downloads for the top VPN software in Russia from an average of 16,000 per day to over 700,000 daily downloads since 24 February.

The Independent has reached out to Meta and Roskomnadzor for more information.

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