Instagram banned by Russia after Meta's decision to allow calls for violence

Instagram users in Russia have been notified that the service will cease from 12am Monday morning (Moscow time), after its owner Meta Platforms said last week it would allow social media users in Ukraine to post messages such as "Death to the Russian invaders".

An email message from the state communications regulator told people to move their photos and videos from Instagram before it was shut down and encouraged them to switch to Russia's own "competitive internet platforms".

Meta, which also owns Facebook, said the temporary change in its hate speech policy applied only to Ukraine in the wake of Russia's invasion.

The company said it would be wrong to prevent Ukrainians from "expressing their resistance and fury at the invading military forces".

The decision was greeted with outrage in Russia, where authorities have opened a criminal investigation against Meta and prosecutors on Friday asked a court to designate the US tech giant as an "extremist organisation".

"A criminal case has been initiated... in connection with illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation by employees of the American company Meta, which owns the social networks Facebook and Instagram," authorities said.

The head of Instagram has said the block will affect 80 million users. Russia has already banned Facebook in the country in response to what it said were restrictions of access to Russian media on the platform.

The message to Instagram users from the regulator Roskomnadzor described the decision to allow calls for violence against Russians as a breach of international law.

"We need to ensure the psychological health of citizens, especially children and adolescents, to protect them from harassment and insults online," it said, explaining the decision to close down the platform.

However Meta's global affairs President Nick Clegg has defended the move, saying the company was trying to protect rights to speech as a way of self-defense.

"If we applied our standard content policies without any adjustments we would now be removing content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury at the invading military forces, which would rightly be viewed as unacceptable," Clegg said.

"We have no quarrel with the Russian people. There is no change at all in our policies on hate speech as far as the Russian people are concerned."

Google has also taken action against Russia, with the tech giant announcing its YouTube video platform was blocking access to the country's state-funded media worldwide.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine fell under the company's violent events policy which means violating material is removed. Farshad Shadloo, a spokesperson for YouTube, said the blocking of the media channels was in line with that policy.

That move has led to Russian state-media calling the move censorship.

"The blocking by YouTube is nothing but a new turn of an atrocious attack on one of the fundamental principles of a democratic society - that is freedom of the press," the Sputnik news agency said.


Reuters / Newshub