Wednesday 25 May 2022
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Russia bans Facebook, Instagram

The court ruling implies that both American social networks will be blocked in Russia; however, WhatsApp Messenger will remain operational in that country

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A court in Moscow banned social networking sites Facebook and Instagram in Russia as “extremist” organisations after the platforms owned by US-tech giant Meta allowed online “hate speech” against the country’s nationals. The court had rejected a request by the company’s lawyers to stop or delay the proceedings.

The case correspondence, which was read out in court, suggested that Instagram had ignored approximately 4,600 demands to remove what has been deemed false content about the war in Ukraine, and 1,800 demands to delete calls for illegal protest.

The two platforms have come under fire in Russia in recent weeks after they announced a policy change to allow what the Vladimir Putin government considers hate speech and calls for against Russian nationals. The companies clarified later that the deviation from the normal rules would be temporary and implemented only on Ukrainian territory, so that the locals could vent their anger over the conflict.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia has fully backed the bans, with the agency’s representative saying in court that the tech giant’s actions “were aimed against Russia and its armed forces”. It called on the judge to outlaw the two services and to “immediately” implement the decision.

The prosecutor acknowledged in court that there were technical means for users to bypass the ruling and still access Facebook and Instagram. However, he assured the court that Russians “won’t be held liable for simply using Meta’s products”. He had filed a legal complaint demanding that Meta’s platforms be outlawed and the company itself designated an extremist organization in Russia, after the rule changes on hate speech. 

The development prompted Russia to block Instagram, which had 80 million users in the country. Facebook had been made inaccessible earlier in response to the platform’s clampdown accounts belonging to Russian outlets.

The lawsuit does not aim at restricting WhatsApp, another Meta product, classifying the service as a communication tool.

During the hearings on 21 March, the American firm’s lawyers had asked the judge to drop or postpone the proceedings. They had argued that the lawsuit should not be handled by a Russian court as Meta was registered in the US — a refrain of the American company on getting legally cornered in another country — and that the proceedings should be transferred to that jurisdiction. 

The defence complained further that it had not been given enough time to properly prepare for the case, which was filed just over a week ago. It also insisted that Meta had “changed its policy after public discussions and now declares that Russophobia and calls for against Russian citizens are unacceptable”.

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