Russia finds US company Meta guilty of ‘extremist activity’

Russian court bans Meta from operating but move will not affect the company’s WhatsApp messenger service.

Facebook's logo on a tablet screen.
A Moscow court banned Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram for 'extremist activity' [File: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP]

A Russian court has said that Meta was guilty of “extremist activity”, but the ruling will not affect its WhatsApp messenger service, focusing on the US tech firm’s already-banned Facebook and Instagram social networks.

Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court on Monday upheld a lawsuit filed by Russian state prosecutors, the court’s press service said in a statement, which accused the US tech giant of tolerating “Russophobia” during the conflict in Ukraine.

The court said the ban “does not apply to the activities of Meta’s messenger WhatsApp”.

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, did not immediately comment on the decision. Lawyer Victoria Shagina said in court that the company was not carrying out extremist activities and stood against Russophobia, the Interfax news agency reported.

Access to Meta’s flagship platforms Facebook and Instagram had already been partially limited amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Moscow took action after Facebook restricted Russian state media’s ability to earn money on the social media platform and limited access to the RT and Sputnik news outlets across the European Union.

Instagram was blocked after Meta outlined a moderation policy allowing social media users in Ukraine to post messages urging violence against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Russian troops.

Meta has since narrowed its guidance to prohibit calls for the death of a head of state and said its guidance should never be interpreted as condoning violence against Russians in general.

However, the perceived threat to Russian citizens angered the authorities and led to the launch of a criminal case against the company.

Russia has previously attributed the label “extremist” to groups including Jehovah’s Witnesses and jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Social media networks have become one of the fronts in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with misleading information but also real-time monitoring of the developing war.

Facebook Inc rechristened itself Meta in October, decoupling its corporate identity from the eponymous social network mired in toxic content and highlighting a shift to an emerging computing platform focused on virtual reality.

Major tech and social media companies have faced pressure to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has led to economic sanctions against Moscow by governments around the world.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies