Meta, the tech giant that controls the Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram social media platforms, said that it has restricted access to Russian state media within the European Union. The moves are intended to limit the spread of Russian propaganda during the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We have received requests from a number of governments and the European Union to take further steps in relation to Russian state-controlled media. Given the exceptional nature of the current situation, we will be restricting access to RT and Sputnik across the EU at this time,” Meta said in a statement on Monday evening.
We have received requests from a number of Governments and the EU to take further steps in relation to Russian state controlled media. Given the exceptional nature of the current situation, we will be restricting access to RT and Sputnik across the EU at this time.
— Nick Clegg (@nickclegg) February 28, 2022
A day earlier, Meta said that it had been contacted by the government of Ukraine. “At their request, we have restricted access to several accounts in Ukraine, including those belonging to some Russian state media organizations. We are also reviewing other government requests to restrict Russian state controlled media,” Meta said.
Other Western tech platforms are also making similar moves.
Twitter has added warning labels to links from Russian state media. Google-owned YouTube has restricted ads on channels controlled by the Russian state, depriving them of revenue. Over the weekend, YouTube said that it, “began pausing a number of Russian channels’ ability to monetize on YouTube, including RT. As always, it will take some time for our systems to fully ramp up and in the meantime, some users may see ads temporarily. We continue to monitor the situation closely.”
In a statement, Microsoft said: “We are removing RT news apps from our Windows app store and further de-ranking these sites’ search results on Bing so that it will only return RT and Sputnik links when a user clearly intends to navigate to those pages.”
The moves come as Western countries assemble a huge range of political and economic measures intended to punish the Russian government and limit its financial ability to wage war. These include cutting some Russian banks from the SWIFT inter-bank transfer system, a ban on Russian aviation, and Germany’s decision not to commission the Nord Stream II pipeline that brings gas from Russia to the West.
The moves are tricky for the platforms. They do not wish to fall foul of laws or new sanctions by carrying banned or dangerous content. But by complying with and anticipating new EU and U.S. regulations they risk retaliatory actions by Russia. This may already be happening.
On Friday, Russia said that it had partially blocked Facebook within its borders and accused the company of human rights abuse by blocking government media. Facebook was “involved in the violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms, as well as the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens [by restricting Kremlin-backed news sources],” said Roskomnadzor, the Russian governmental agency responsible for monitoring and censoring Russian media.
Yet both sides are aware that private citizens use social media to keep themselves informed, to organize, and to rally support around causes. For the moment, that makes restrictions and tweaks to business models more likely than outright bans.
“As of this morning, we’ve made encrypted one-to-one chats available on Instagram for all adults in Ukraine and Russia. We’ll also show notifications at the top of people’s direct message inboxes to let them know they can switch to an encrypted conversation if they want to. End-to-end encrypted chats are already available as an option on Messenger and by default on WhatsApp,” Meta said on Monday.