According to RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned news agency, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has asked a court to recognize Meta as an extremist organization and ban its activities in Russia. The move would extend a ban on Facebook to include Instagram. Reports indicate WhatsApp, the message platform, is not as yet included in the ban.
The Russian news agency reports that the Russian Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case regarding public calls for extremism and promotion of terrorism because of a change in Meta’s content moderation policy, reported yesterday by Reuters, which would allow calls for violence against the invading Russian army and calls for the death of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin.
The temporary change sought to accommodate political expression that would normally violate the company’s rules. According to a Reuters report, the rules would apply narrowly to the war context:
In an email to moderators Meta said that it was allowing “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-defense, etc.)”.
Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that if the reporting on the Meta policies is true “we will resort to resolute measures to stop activities of this company,” according to the Russian news agency TASS.
More dismissal from Rus officials: All Meta services may be blocked in Russia soon – First Deputy Chairman of the Duma IT Committee Sergey Boyarsky said on state TV.— Mary Ilyushina (@maryilyushina) March 11, 2022
He acknowledged that Russians, “of course, will miss” the company’s services. “But we will get through this.”
The moves by Russia arguably accelerate its drive towards ‘cyber sovereignty,’ which Freedom House researchers Allie Funk and Grant Baker say has been a goal of the country’s government for some time. “For years now, the Russian government has sought to erect its own digital borders in cyberspace, allowing it to control the online information environment and insulate residents from the global internet,” they wrote in Tech Policy Press.
This article was updated to reflect uncertainty over whether the ban would include WhatsApp.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.