According to Russian state media, Tass, a Russian court banned both Instagram and Facebook on March 21st, for the second time, after finding parent company Meta to be “extremist”.
Following a tectonic shift in relations between Russia and the west, the Kremlin labeled Meta an “extremist organization” and banned the use of Instagram and Facebook. This comes after Meta announced a relaxation of restrictions regarding hate speech by those based in Ukraine towards Russian soldiers, Vladimir Putin, and the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe.
Whilst Russian citizens may no longer be able to use Instagram or Facebook anymore, it was reported that:
The decision does not apply to the activities of Meta’s messenger WhatsApp, due to its lack of functionality for the public dissemination of information.
Following this ruling, Meta and its employees are banned from opening offices and conducting commercial activities in Russia. Additionally, any Meta employees operating within the country could be liable for criminal charges, but luckily, none are based there. However, according to Quartz:
Russian ad-buyers could also be on the hook for charges of financing extremism
This isn’t the first time that Russia has taken action against Meta services, having blocked access to Facebook, Instagram, and also Twitter between the 3rd–4th of March. Whilst access was initially blocked in early March, there were no legal ramifications for accessing Meta services via a VPN or other means.
Now with the introduction of the ruling, the threat of legal repercussions for civilians becomes murky. NetFreedoms emphasized that Russian citizens couldn’t be prosecuted for simply using Meta social media platforms, and that:
It can be safe to have accounts and post on Instagram and Facebook… carefully.
Given how strongly the Kremlin has cracked down on protesters within Russia, it would be safe to assume that any posts that don’t toe the party line would be subject to legal action as well.
The Kremlin is now actively developing its own social media platform called Rossgram to provide an alternative service for its citizens. This will similarly be subject to oversight by the authorities to ensure compliance with the new law.
Whilst access to Meta social media services remains inaccessible to the general population, those with VPNs can still access the services, providing a buffer between themselves, government censorship, and potential legal ramifications.
Citizens using VPNs would certainly have a broader selection of news outlets, up-to-date information, and access to diverse points of view, although Russian users should still exercise caution when posting online.
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