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Freedom of SpeechRussian Federation

Russia bans 'extremist' Facebook and Instagram

March 21, 2022

Facebook and Instagram's parent company, Meta, has been designated as an "extremist" organization by a Russian court. But Meta's WhatsApp is excluded from the ban.

A smart phone screen displays social media platforms' application icons of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, VK, Odnoklassniki, YouTube and Telegram
The move is the latest by Russia against social media platformsImage: Sefa Karacan/AA/picture alliance

A Moscow court on Monday banned Facebook and Instagram and designated their parent company, Meta, as an "extremist" organization.

According to Russian media reports, the decision would be enforced immediately. 

The court ruling came after a request from prosecutors to ban the two platforms for "carrying out extremist activities." 

Russia's security service, the FSB, had demanded an "immediate" ban on Facebook and Instagram, accusing them of activities "directed against Russia and its armed forces."

Russia's media regulator had already restricted access to Facebook and blocked Instagram after Meta said it would allow social media users in Ukraine to post messages urging violence against President Vladimir Putin in light of the invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Meta had announced that its platforms would allow such statements as "death to Russian invaders," if they were posted from Ukraine, but not credible threats against civilians.

What do Russians think of Putin's war?

WhatsApp excluded from ban

Meta's messaging app WhatsApp is,  however, excluded from the ban, the Tverskoi district court ruled. 

"The decision does not apply to the activities of Meta's messenger WhatsApp, due to its lack of functionality for the public dissemination of information," the court said.

Some in Russia had feared that such a ruling would affect WhatsApp. But analysis of mobile internet traffic shows that Telegram has overtaken WhatsApp to become the country's most popular messaging tool in recent weeks.

Moscow targets social media platforms

Putin's war in Ukraine has heightened tensions between foreign digital platforms and Moscow.

Access to Twitter in Russia is also currently restricted. 

Last week, Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, demanded that Alphabet Inc's Google stopped spreading what it described as "threats" against Russian citizens on its YouTube video-sharing platform.

Ever before the war, Russia targeted internet platforms for failing to take down content considered illegal, such as pornography or posts condoning drugs and suicide.

Last year, Moscow demanded social networks remove posts asking people to join protests supporting jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

fb/rt (AFP, Reuters)