The social video platform TikTok announced on March 6 that it is suspending all new posting and live-streaming for users in Russia. The drastic move comes amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has escalated since Russian troops invaded on Feb. 24.
“In light of Russia’s new ‘fake news’ law, we have no choice but to suspend live-streaming and new content to our video service while we review the safety implications of this law,” TikTok said on its official Twitter account. In-app messaging between users will remain active, the company added.
In a crackdown on speech in the country, Vladimir Putin’s government passed a new law targeting the publication of “false information” about Russia’s military on March 4. The law criminalizes publishing whatever the Russian government deems misinformation, carrying a 15-year prison sentence.
The TikTok war
TikTok has been a crucial platform of the war. The New Yorker called the conflict in Ukraine “the world’s first TikTok war” because of how Ukrainians have used the app to document the situation on the ground.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that has long deflected accusations of censorship on behalf of Beijing. Since ByteDance bought Musical.ly in 2017 and merged it with TikTok, the app has become a cultural tour de force around the world. It recently surpassed 1 billion global users—an impressive statistic considering it does not operate as TikTok in China and is banned in India.
Russia’s war on information
Russia’s fake news law is a severe step for a country whose government is already antagonistic to the ideals of a free press. The advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ranks Russia 150 out of 180 for press freedom because of its imprisonment of journalists, harassment campaigns against Kremlin critics, and interest in controlling the internet. In recent days, CNN stopped broadcasting in Russia and Bloomberg News ceased reporting in Russia; The Washington Post removed reporters’ bylines on stories for fear of their safety.
The country has blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube proactively, but TikTok beat Russia to the punch. The result is the same, however: The people of Russia, whether supportive of the Kremlin or not, will be locked out from another window into the real-life consequences of Putin’s war.