Russia has announced it is partially limiting access to Facebook, after the US social media giant said it refused to comply with an order from the Russian authorities to stop fact-checkers and content warning labels on its platforms amid the country’s attack on Ukraine.
The Russian communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, said on Friday that Facebook had ignored its demands to lift restrictions on four Russian media outlets on its platform – RIA news agency, the Defence Ministry’s Zvezda TV, and websites gazeta.ru and lenta.ru.
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It was not immediately clear what Russia’s restrictions on Facebook would involve.
“In accordance with the decision of the General Prosecutor’s Office, starting from Feb. 25, partial access restrictions are being imposed by Roskomnadzor on the Facebook social network,” the regulator said in a statement.
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 regarding a quickly developing conflict.
Russian forces have been moving closer to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, as bloody battles took place nationwide on the second day of the Russian attack on its neighbour.
The United Nations has said more than 50,000 Ukrainians have fled to other countries since the invasion began, while tens of thousands more have also been internally displaced, seeking shelter in churches, basements and underground metro stations.
On Friday, the vice president of global affairs at Facebook’s parent company, Meta, said that “the Russian authorities ordered us to stop the independent fact-checking and labelling of content posted on Facebook by four Russian state-owned media organizations”.
“We refused. As a result, they have announced they will be restricting the use of our services,” Nick Clegg wrote in a statement shared on Twitter.
“Ordinary Russians are using our apps to express themselves and organize for action. We want them to continue to make their voices heard, share what’s happening, and organize through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.”
Ordinary Russians are using @Meta's apps to express themselves and organize for action. We want them to continue to make their voices heard, share what’s happening, and organize through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. pic.twitter.com/FjTovgslCe
— Nick Clegg (@nickclegg) February 25, 2022
Moscow has been trying to exert tighter control over the internet and big tech for years, something critics say threatens individual and corporate freedom, and is part of a wider crackdown against outspoken opponents of the Kremlin.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Moscow, explained that since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Russian personalities and celebrities have shared anti-war messages on social media, including on Facebook and Instagram.
“There may be something in the Russian government wanting to reduce the ability of people to post those anti-war messages,” Smith said.
Thousands have joined anti-war protests across Russia, including in Moscow and St Petersburg, since the invasion was launched. More than 1,700 people in 54 Russian cities were arrested on Thursday, at least 957 of them in the capital.
Meta, which has long been under pressure to combat misinformation on its platforms, partners with third-party fact-checkers, including the Reuters and AFP news agencies, which rate and label content for veracity. Meta says that content rated false, altered or partly false is shown to fewer users.