The Russian government is tightening its grip on social media as it attempts to control the message over the war in Ukraine.
Russia is now moving to block access to Facebook across the entire country, according to a March 4 official press release, translated by Google. Notably, only the Facebook platform itself appears to be the target of Russia’s ire — Meta-owned apps like WhatsApp and Instagram look to remain unscathed (at least for now).
“On March 4, 2022, a decision was made to block access to the Facebook network (owned by Meta Platforms, Inc.) in the Russian Federation,” reads the statement in part. “In recent days, the social network has restricted access to accounts: the Zvezda TV channel, the RIA Novosti news agency, Sputnik, Russia Today, the Lenta.ru and Gazeta.ru information resources.”
This move comes as the deadly Russian war in Ukraine continues to elicit international outrage and sympathy for the Ukrainian people. It follows actions taken by numerous tech giants, including Twitter and Google-owned YouTube, to limit Russian war propaganda by blocking, labeling, or limiting the spread of state-run media companies.
On Friday, the Russian parliament passed a new law meant to combat the sharing of war-related information online. Specifically, reports Reuters, offenders could face up to 15 years in prison for spreading “fake” information about the Russian military.
We reached out to Meta (formerly known as Facebook), which owns the Facebook platform, and asked if it has any response to the Russian government’s announcement. We received no immediate response, however the company’s president of global affairs shared a statement on Twitter.
“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. “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 organize for action.”
Russia justified its decision to block Facebook by saying the platform had violated Russian law. Specifically, a provision meant to (at least ostensibly) guarantee open internet access for Russians.
“The above restrictions are prohibited by Federal Law No. 272-FZ ‘On measures to influence persons involved in violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms, the rights and freedoms of citizens of the Russian Federation’, adopted, among other things, to prevent violations of the key principles of the free flow of information and unhindered access Russian users to Russian media on foreign Internet platforms.”
This is only the Russian government’s latest effort to crack down on social media companies. Just last week, Russia’s communications regulator accused Facebook of censoring state accounts and moved to restrict access to the platform as a result.
Friday’s announcement suggests that, in the mind of Russian officials, previous efforts to crack down on social media either hadn’t worked, or hadn’t gone far enough.