Russia’s communications regulator is blocking access to Facebook in the country following efforts by its parent company, Meta, to clamp down on state media over the war in Ukraine.
In a statement issued today (March 4), the regulator, Roskomnadzor, cited 26 cases of “discrimination against Russian media and information resources by Facebook” that have taken place since October 2020. Twitter is also being blocked, according to Russian news agency Interfax.
Roskomnadzor has also blocked access to Radio Free Liberty and Radio Europe websites, and the Russian sites of the BBC and Deutsche Welle. The moves could further restrict Russians’ access to news that isn’t state-sanctioned as the war in Ukraine escalates.
Facebook’s reach in Russia
There are an estimated 71 million Facebook users in Russia, according to Polish analytics company NapoleonCat, accounting for half of the population. Facebook’s popularity has waned among Russians in recent years, according to a 2021 Deloitte survey, with YouTube, Instagram, and the Russian social network VKontakte (VK) gaining preference among users.
A growing number of Russians get their news from social media, and in recent years president Vladimir Putin’s government has taken actions to curtail the spread of information online that reflects poorly on the state. Putin passed a sovereign internet law in 2019 that gives the Russian government more control over internet content, and the country has tested a locally based network in recent years.
Big tech is cracking down on Russian state media
Big tech companies don’t have a great track record of standing up to Russia, but in recent days Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all moved to block state-run media outlets such as RT and Sputnik on their platforms. Russia limited access to the platform last week over its restriction of Russian media accounts, including the Defense Ministry’s television channel, Zvezda. Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, said the retaliatory moves were a response to the company’s efforts to fact-check and label misleading Russian content.
“Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information,” Clegg said of Russia’s March 4 decision to block Facebook entirely.