Russia restricts Facebook access as anti-war protests continue in Russia

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Moscow said it was partially limiting access to Meta Platforms Inc’s  Facebook, accusing it of “censoring” Russian media, announcing the measure a day after Russia invaded Ukraine and the latest in a series of steps against U.S. social media giants.

Moscow has also increased pressure on domestic media, threatening to block reports that contain what it describes as “false information” regarding its military operation in Ukraine, where Russian missiles were pounding Kyiv and families cowered in shelters. 

The state communications regulator said 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 and

Meta’s head of global affairs, Nick Clegg, said in a statement on Twitter: “Yesterday, Russian authorities ordered us to stop the independent fact-checking and labelling of content posted to 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.”

Meta, which has long been under pressure to combat misinformation, partners with outside fact-checkers, including Reuters, which assess some content for veracity. Meta says that content rated false, altered or partly false is shown to fewer users.

Clegg said “ordinary Russians” were using Meta’s apps — which include Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, as well as Facebook — to “express themselves and organize for action” and that the company wanted them to continue to do so.

Russia 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.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner said in a letter to the chief executives of Facebook, YouTube and others that the companies have a duty to ensure their social media platforms are not misused by Russia and Russia-linked entities.

Each company has “a clear responsibility to ensure that your products are not used to facilitate human rights abuses, undermine humanitarian and emergency service responses, or advance harmful disinformation,” Warner said.

Alphabet Inc’s  Google said it has removed hundreds of YouTube channels and thousands of videos over the last few days for violating its policies and was continuing to look for and disrupt disinformation campaigns and hacking. Google is also evaluating what any new sanctions and export controls could mean for the company, said spokeswoman Ivy Choi.

Twitter Inc TWTR.Nsaid users in Russia and Ukraine would no longer see ads – an attempt to avoid distracting from public safety messages – and that they would not get recommended tweets from accounts they do not follow in a bid to limit the spread of abusive content.

It was not immediately clear what Russia’s restrictions on Facebook would involve. Last year Moscow slowed down the speed of Twitter in a punitive move. 

“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, Roskomnadzor, said in a statement.

Meta has already irked Russia’s authorities. Moscow routinely fines the company small sums for what it says is a failure to delete illegal content quickly enough.

In December, it issued a much bigger fine of 2 billion roubles ($24 million) for what it described as a repeated failure to delete content. It has also fined Google, Twitter and TikTok. 

Facebook bars Russian state media from running ads

In another development, Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, is barring Russian state media from running ads or monetising on its platform anywhere in the world.

“We also continue to apply labels to additional Russian state media,” its security policy head, Nathaniel Gleicher, said on Friday.

“These changes have already begun rolling out and will continue into the weekend.”

Protests Resume in Russia

Meanwhile, protesters took to the streets in Moscow, St. Petersburg and across Russia on Friday to decry the invasion of Ukraine, even as authorities sought to suppress the spreading antiwar sentiment and project an image of strength and righteousness.

The largest demonstration erupted in St. Petersburg, where several hundred people spontaneously gathered in the city center, chanting “No to war!” as police in full riot gear detained one protester after another.

The OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests counted 437 detentions in 26 Russian cities, including 226 in Moscow and 130 in St. Petersburg. In Moscow, police were also detaining random people who were just passing by, according to media reports.

The rallies on Friday night appeared smaller than on Thursday, when thousands took to the streets across Russia. A total of 1,820 demonstrators were detained in 58 Russian cities on Thursday night, including 1,002 in Moscow, according to OVD-Info.

Photo – Russian policemen detain a protester during a rally against the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine in St. Petersburg, Russia, 25 February 2022. EPA-EFE/ANATOLY MALTSEV

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