Tue. May 17th, 2022
Russia Reportedly Blocks Access to Twitter, Facebook, App Stores and News Sites
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Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/Getty Images

This story is part of War in Ukraine, CNET’s coverage of events there and of the wider effects on the world.

Russia’s telecommunications regulator said Friday that it blocked access to Facebook after the world’s largest social network started to make content from Russian state-controlled media tougher to find on its platform.

The regulator, Roskomnadzor, said in a statement that it made the decision because the social network allegedly ran afoul of a federal law against violating “the human rights” and “freedoms” of Russians by restricting its media outlets. Since October 2020, there have been 26 cases of “discrimination” against Russian media by Facebook, the regulator alleged.

The decision underscores how tensions between Russia’s government and tech giants continue to escalate after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Facebook has been facing more pressure to limit access to Russian state-controlled media because of concerns these sites are spreading false claims and propaganda. Last week, Russia said it was partly restricting access to Facebook after the social network refused to stop fact-checking and labeling content posted on Facebook by four Russian state-owned media organizations. On Tuesday, Facebook announced more restrictions against Russian media, including demoting posts globally that contain links to Russian state-controlled media such as RT and Sputnik. 

Despite concerns about the spread of disinformation, Facebook has stopped short of cutting off access to its platforms in Russia. The company says it wants to promote freedom of expression. The social media giant, which late last year renamed itself Meta, says people in Russia are also using its services to protest and show the world what’s happening in real time.

“Soon millions of Russia will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out,” Meta’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, tweeted on Friday. 

The company said it’s doing everything it can to restore its services in Russia. It didn’t say how many people use Facebook in Russia and what it’s doing to restore its services.

Meta also owns photo and video service Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp. Roskomnadzor doesn’t say whether the block affects those apps. Clegg said Tuesday, before a full block was announced, that Russia’s attempt to throttle its services has impacted video and other multimedia content but that this is showing up differently on Facebook and Instagram. “The degradation of the service is definitely discernible,” he said Tuesday. 

Clegg said during that press call that he couldn’t give too many details about how Russia has been restricting its services, because it involves infrastructure in Russia that’s not owned by Meta. It’s unclear if Meta is still seeing any impact on Instagram since Tuesday.

Russia restricts other services

Facebook isn’t the only service Russia is cracking down on. The country reportedly blocked access to several big app stores, Western news organizations and other social media sites. 

News agency Interfax said Friday that Russia’s telecommunications regulator has also blocked Twitter. A spokeswoman for the company, though, said that “we’re aware of reports, but we don’t currently see anything significantly different from what we previously shared that would point to a block.” Twitter said on Saturday that the service is being restricted for some people in Russia.

Der Spiegel reporter Mathieu von Rohr tweeted on Thursday that Russia has also blocked news organizations BBC and Deutsche Welle, and app stores, though he didn’t specify whether this referred to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. 

The Latvian-based news site Meduza said in a blog post that many readers in Russia couldn’t access the organization’s website.

Apple, Google, the BBC and Deutsche Welle didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Read more:  Big Tech’s Support for Ukraine Recasts Industry’s Global Role

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s tech minister asked Apple CEO Tim Cook to block App Store access in Russia. The tech giant didn’t go that far when it took action days ago, choosing instead to pull access to RT News and Sputnik News from the App Store outside Russia and stop selling products in Russia. Facebook and YouTube have also restricted access to Russian state-controlled media like RT and Sputnik.  

Other tech companies have responded to the invasion by limiting sales in the country to comply with official US sanctions and by restricting service. But some have tried to take punitive action without cutting off local access, resulting in moves like those from Snapchat, which has halted ad sales in Russia while keeping the app live in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus as a communications tool. 

CNET’s Stephen Shankland explains that blocking access to app stores, Western news sites and social media could encourage a “splinternet” that isolates Russian online interaction from the rest of the world. 

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