Russia Blocks Access to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

In a crackdown on public criticism and access to information on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia has blocked access to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter within its borders.

Russian communications censor Roskomnadzor announced that Instagram would be banned on Friday March 11 and that users would have 48-hours before access was completely shut off.

Journalists with the international news agency AFP confirmed the social media application was inaccessible in Russia on Monday March 14 without the use of a virtual private network (VPN).

The ban on Instagram follows Russia’s decision to restrict access to the other social media giants Facebook and Twitter after a dispute with the apps’ parent company Meta.

On Feb. 27, Meta announced it took down a network of accounts run by people targeting Ukraine across multiple social media platforms.

“They ran websites posing as independent news entities and created fake personas across social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube Telegram and also Russian Odnoklassniki and VK,” Meta’s head of security policy wrote.

A day later, Meta announced it was going to restrict access to Russian state media outlets known for publishing propaganda. Meta’s President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg wrote, “Given the exceptional nature of the current situation, we will be restricting access to RT and Sputnik across the EU at this time.”

Russia then accused Meta of discriminating against Russian media and restricted access to Meta’s social media platforms, but a widesweeping ban was not put in place until Meta announced a controversial change to its hate speech policy.

According to an internal email obtained by Reuters, a Meta spokesperson said, “As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders.’”

Meta also reportedly said it would temporarily allow posts that call for the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

On March 11 Meta’s president of global affairs acknowledged the policy change and released a statement explaining the company’s decision.

“I want to be crystal clear: our policies are focused on protecting people’s rights to speech as an expression of self-defense in reaction to a military invasion of their country,” he wrote. “The fact is, if we applied our standard content policies without any adjustments we would now be removing content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury at the invading military forces, which would be rightly viewed as unacceptable.”

In response, Russia said it was considering labeling Meta as an extremist organization and the United Nations said it was concerned the move could fuel hate speech against Russians in general.

U.N. spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell told reporters in Geneva that, “This is clearly a very, very complex issue, but it does raise some concerns under the terms of human rights law and international humanitarian law.”

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