Russia blocks access to Facebook amid war with Ukraine

Russia’s media regulator accuses Facebook of restricting access to Russian outlets, citing 26 cases of ‘discrimination’.

Russia’s communications regulator says it blocked Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook in response to what it said were restrictions of access to Russian media on its platform, more than a week after Moscow invaded its neighbour Ukraine.

The regulator, Roskomnadzor, said on Friday there had been 26 cases of discrimination against Russian media by Facebook since October 2020, with access restricted to state-backed channels like RT and the RIA news agency.

The company this week said it had restricted access to RT and Sputnik across the European Union and was globally demoting content from Russian state-controlled outlets’ Facebook pages and Instagram accounts, as well as posts containing links to those outlets on Facebook.

Last week, Moscow said it was partially limiting access to Facebook, a move the company said came after it refused a government request to stop the independent fact-checking of several Russian state media outlets.

Meanwhile, Tass news agency reported on Friday that Russia had restricted access to Twitter. Interfax news agency earlier said the service had been blocked.

Twitter Inc did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meta’s head of global affairs Nick Clegg said the company would continue to do everything it could to restore its services.

“Soon millions of ordinary Russian will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out,” he said, in a statement posted on Twitter.

Major tech and social media companies have faced pressure to respond to last Thursday’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which has led to economic sanctions against Moscow by governments around the world. Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation”.

Roskomnadzor said Meta had restricted access to the accounts of state-backed news outlets in recent days, listing RT, Sputnik, the RIA news agency, the defence ministry’s Zvezda TV and websites gazeta.ru and lenta.ru.

It said such restrictions violated the key principles of freedom of information and Russian internet users’ unimpeded access to Russian media.

An AFP news agency journalist in Moscow confirmed Facebook was not working but Facebook-owned Instagram was still accessible.

The move comes amid an unprecedented government crackdown on independent media and activists since the start of the Russian invasion.

The country’s key remaining liberal media outlets have been shut down in recent days and a new law introducing harsh jail terms for publishing “fake news” about the war in Ukraine has forced others to abstain from covering that topic.

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