Amid the Kremlin’s escalating assault on Western social media firms, a Russian court has banned Facebook and Instagram in the country, branding its parent company Meta as “extremist.”
Access to Facebook and Instagram was already blocked earlier this month when Meta said it was lowering its standards against hate speech directed towards Russian forces and Vladimir Putin about the country’s war in Ukraine. However, Meta subsequently clarified that the loosened limits would only apply to posts made from within Ukraine.
The Moscow court ruled that Facebook and Instagram, both popular among Russians, were “carrying out extremist activities.” However, it stated that Meta’s WhatsApp messenger service would not be banned since it “was a means of communication, not a source of information.”
During a hearing in Moscow on Monday, Russia’s FSB security service accused Meta of establishing an “alternate reality” in which “hatred for Russians was kindled.”
“The activities of the Meta organisation are directed against Russia and its armed forces,” FSB representative Igor Kovalevsky told the court.
Russian lawyers indicated in court that they would not attempt to arrest Russian residents or organisations who use the two forbidden sites, even though hundreds of thousands of Russians have used a VPN to avoid the social media ban.
“The use of Meta’s products by individuals and legal entities should not be considered as participation in extremist activities,” Kovalevsky told the court on Monday. “Individuals will not be held liable for using Meta’s services,” he added.
According to reports, Meta’s lawyer, Victoria Shagina, stated in court that the company opposes any Russophobia and does not engage in extremist activities.
The decision to classify Meta as “extremist” comes as Russia continues its extraordinary assault on protestors, independent news organisations, and global social media networks.
Earlier this month, the Russian legislature passed a bill that imposes a prison penalty of up to 15 years for knowingly distributing “fake” news about the military.
“Since the start of the special operation in Ukraine, the authorities have sought to fully control the information sphere in the country. We should be prepared for more censorship,” said Alexander Isavnin, a Russian internet privacy advocate and member of the Pirate Party of Russia.
“The move to ban Meta is also a final warning sign to YouTube, the last major remaining western platform in the country,” Isavnin added, pointing to the recent criticism YouTube received from Russia’s communications regulator and politicians.
“The move to ban Meta is also a final warning sign to YouTube, the country’s last major remaining Western platform,” Isavnin added, referring to current criticism levelled at YouTube by Russia’s communications regulator and lawmakers.
“The actions of the YouTube administration are of a terrorist nature and threaten the life and health of Russian citizens,” the regulator said in a statement.