Russia takes down Instagram in latest social media crackdown

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Russian regulators said Friday that the country’s internet users will be blocked from accessing Instagram, saying it’s being used to call for violence against Russian soldiers.

In Moscow’s latest move to restrict access to foreign social media platforms, communications and media regulator Roskomnadzor said in a statement that it’s restricting national access to Instagram. It said the platform is spreading “calls to commit violent acts against Russian citizens, including military personnel.”

Roskomnadzor cited a Thursday tweet by Meta spokesman Andy Stone conveying a company statement saying it had “made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules on violent speech, such as ‘death to the Russian invaders’.”

Stone’s statement followed a Reuters report that Meta was making a temporary change to its hate speech policy to allow Facebook and Instagram users in some countries to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion.

The statement stressed that the company “still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”

Facebook parent Meta Platforms, which also owns Instagram, on Friday defended what it described as a temporary decision “taken in extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances.”

“I want to be crystal clear: Our policies are focused on protecting people’s rights to speech as an expression of self-defense in reaction to a military invasion of their country,” said a statement Friday from Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.

“The fact is, if we applied our standard content policies without any adjustments we would now be removing content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury at the invading military forces, which would rightly be viewed as unacceptable,” Clegg added.

He noted that the policy only applies in Ukraine and the company hasn’t changed its policies against hate speech targeting Russian people.

Russia has already blocked access to Facebook, limited access to Twitter and criminalized the intentional spreading of what Moscow deems to be “fake” reports, as part of President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on social media and news outlets like the BBC.

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Big tech companies, meanwhile, have moved to restrict Russian state media from using their platforms to spread propaganda and misinformation.

YouTube said Friday it’s blocking access globally to channels associated with Russian state-funded media. It previously blocked them — specifically RT and Sputnik — across Europe.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, announced the move in a Twitter post, saying that while the change is effective immediately, it would take time for systems to ramp up. It said it’s also removing content about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that “minimizes or trivializes well-documented violent events.”

The Kremlin refers to the invasion as a “special military operation” and not a war. YouTube previously paused YouTube ads in Russia. Now, it’s extending that to all the ways it makes money on the platform in Russia.

Meta has also barred Russian state media from Instagram and Facebook.

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