Russia blocks Facebook, as Kremlin moves to stifle dissent

Facebook on Friday became the first US tech giant to be blocked by the Russian government, part of the Kremlin’s broadening campaign to tighten control of the internet and limit spaces for dissent over the war in Ukraine. .

The move could foreshadow new restrictions on other tech companies such as Google, owner of YouTube, and Twitter. Both have also been under pressure from the Russian government.

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s internet regulator, said in a statement that Facebook would be blocked for what it said were 26 cases of discrimination against Russian media. He also cited steps taken by Facebook to restrict Russian media, including Zvezda, RIA Novosti, Sputnik, Russia Today, Lenta.ru and Gazeta.ru.

Instagram and WhatsApp, which are also owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta, are unaffected, the company said. Both are more popular in Russia than Facebook’s main blue app.

The move is part of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s actions to suppress dissent over the war in Ukraine. On Friday, the government passed a law making it illegal to spread what it calls “false information” about the Russian armed forces, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The law will come into force on Saturday and could make it a criminal offense to simply call war a ‘war’ – the Kremlin says it is a ‘special military operation’ – on social media or in a press article or a broadcast. Many of the few remaining independent news outlets in Russia have closed in anticipation of the law.

In a statement, Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Meta, said Russia’s blocking of the social network would harm the country’s citizens.

“Soon, millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their daily means of connecting with family and friends, and prevented from speaking out,” he said, adding that Meta would work to restore Facebook’s services in the country.

Later Friday, Facebook announced that it suspend the capacity of its advertising systems to target users in Russia. Advertisers in Russia will also no longer be able to create or run Facebook ads anywhere in the world, including inside the country, the company said.

Russia has put in place an extensive censorship infrastructure in recent years that allows it to block or slow down access to certain websites. He used the system to slow down access to Twitter. In the past, authorities have also ordered internet service providers across Russia to enforce its judgments.

Facebook has no employees in Russia and is not very popular with the general public. But it was a place where people could criticize the government and find information outside the state media.

An even bigger target for the Russian government would be YouTube, which is hugely popular in the country as a source of entertainment and news. Many analysts have questioned whether Mr Putin would agree to a YouTube ban because it would be politically unpopular. With Facebook, at least, the math seems to have changed.

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