Russia court bans Facebook, Instagram for ‘extremism’ — but spares WhatsApp

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A court in Moscow has banned Meta-owned companies Facebook and Instagram for what it called “extremist activities” amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Prosecutors at the Tverskoy District Court also reportedly accused the social media giant on Monday of ignoring Moscow’s requests to remove what they deemed fake news about the military action in Ukraine and calls for protests in Russia.

However, they did not call for a ban on the Meta-owned messaging service WhatsApp, which is widely popular in Russia – with nearly 84 million monthly users as of January.

The move comes just days after Meta changed its hate speech policy to allow posts calling for violence against the Russian military and the country’s president Vladimir Putin.

“In light of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, we made a temporary exception for those affected by war, to express sentiments toward invading armed forces such as ‘death to the Russian invaders,’” Meta had said earlier this month.

The Facebook-parent company then narrowed down its content moderation policy last week, adding that it does not “permit calls to assassinate a head of state”, and that it is “never to be interpreted as condoning violence against Russians in general.”

While both Facebook and Instagram already remain blocked in Russia, Kremlin authorities said they do not intend to punish individuals who use the apps.

“The use of Meta products by individuals and legal entities should not be qualified as participation in extremist activities,” a spokesperson for Russia’s prosecutor general told Russian state-owned news agency TASS.

However, users who have paid for advertising on Facebook and Instagram may face consequences for “financing extremism” and have their accounts blocked, according to earlier reports.

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The latest verdict comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the Kremlin continues to curb anti-war protests in Russia and control the messaging across the country.

Russia’s parliament even approved a law earlier this month, making it a criminal offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison to spread what the Kremlin deems to be “fake” news about the Ukraine invasion, which it refers to only as a “special military” operation”.

This map shows the extent of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

(Press Association Images)

The conflict, currently on day 27, has led to the death of over 900 civilians in Ukraine as of Monday and at least 1,496 civilians have suffered injuries, according to the UN Human Rights Office.

However, the actual toll and injuries could be “considerably higher” since “the receipt of information from some locations where hostile intenseities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration,” the UN body noted in a statement.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

Additional reporting by agencies

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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