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21 Mar, 2022 13:58

Russia bans Facebook and Instagram

The court ruling means both US social networks will be blocked, but the WhatsApp messenger will remain operational
Russia bans Facebook and Instagram

A Moscow court on Monday banned Facebook and Instagram in Russia as extremist organizations, after the platforms, owned by US-tech giant Meta, allowed online hate speech against the country’s nationals. The judge 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 around 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 hate speech and calls for violence against Russian nationals. It was later clarified 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) has fully backed the bans, the agency's representative saying in court that the tech giant's actions “were aimed against Russia and its armed forces.” He called on the judge to outlaw the two services and to "immediately" implement the decision.

The prosecutor acknowledged in court that there are 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 media outlets.

The lawsuit doesn't aiming to restrict WhatsApp, another Meta product, due to it being classed as simply a communication tool.

During the hearings on Monday, the American firm's lawyers asked the judge to drop or to postpone the proceedings.

They argued that the lawsuit shouldn't be handled by a Russian court as Meta is registered in the US and because of this fact the proceedings should be transferred to that jurisdiction. The defense also complained that it wasn't given enough time to properly prepare for the case, which was filed just over a week ago. It also insisted that Meta has "changed its policy after public discussions and now declares that Russophobia and calls for violence against Russian citizens are unacceptable."