Russia’s bid to arrest Meta spokesperson revealed amid media crackdown

Meta logo on a phone screen
US tech giant Meta Platforms Inc is the parent company of Instagram and Facebook [Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Russia has put the communications director of social media company Meta on a wanted list, it has been revealed, amid Moscow’s announcement of new media restrictions ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Andy Stone, a spokesperson of US tech giant Meta Platforms Inc, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, is wanted on unspecified criminal charges, Russian news wires reported late on Sunday, referring to an Interior Ministry database.

Russia added Meta to its list of “terrorists and extremist” organisations last year. The list includes right-wing nationalist groups; foreign “terrorist organisations,” including the Taliban; and Russian opposition groups. The classification means Russians using Facebook and Instagram could face possible criminal charges.

According to Mediazona, an independent news website that covers Russia’s opposition and prison system, Stone was put on the wanted list in February 2022, but authorities made no related statements at the time and no news media reported on the matter until this week.

In April 2022, Russia also formally barred Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg from entering the country.

Ban over insults

Russia’s row with Meta started with its invasion of Ukraine, as users from both sides of the war voiced their unfiltered emotions on the platforms.

Stone, at that time, announced temporary changes to Meta’s hate speech policy to allow for “forms of political expression that would normally violate [its] rules, like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders’”.

In the same statement, Stone added that “credible calls for violence against Russian civilians” would remain banned.

In late March, Russia banned Facebook and Instagram for “carrying out extremist activities” after authorities accused Meta of tolerating “Russophobia”.

Facebook and Instagram have been inaccessible in Russia since, but many Russians resorted to using VPNs to keep using the social media networks.

Instagram is particularly popular in Russia and is an important platform for advertisement and sales.

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved changes to a law that will curtail media coverage of next year’s presidential election, according to local news agencies.

To enforce this ban, the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media also reportedly plans to block certain virtual private networks (VPNs) that Russians widely use to bypass internet restrictions.

Source: News Agencies