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Russia widens social media crackdown by blocking Instagram

AP – Russian regulators said on Friday that the country’s Internet users will be blocked from accessing Instagram, saying it’s being used to call for violence against Russian soldiers.

In Moscow’s latest move to restrict access to foreign social media platforms, communications and media regulator Roskomnadzor said in a statement that it’s restricting national access to Instagram. It said the platform is spreading “calls to commit violent acts against Russian citizens, including military personnel”.

Roskomnadzor cited a Thursday tweet by Meta spokesman Andy Stone conveying a company statement saying it had “made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules on violent speech, such as ‘death to the Russian invaders'”.

Stone’s statement followed a news agency’s report that Meta was making a temporary change to its hate speech policy to allow Facebook and Instagram users in some countries to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion.

The statement stressed that the company “still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians”.

The Instagram app icon displayed on a smartphone. PHOTO: AFP

Facebook parent Meta Platforms, which also owns Instagram, on Friday defended what it described as a temporary decision “taken in extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances”.

“I want to be crystal clear: Our policies are focussed on protecting people’s rights to speech as an expression of self-defence in reaction to a military invasion of their country,” said a statement on Friday from Meta’s President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg.

“The fact is, 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 added.

He noted that the policy only applies in Ukraine and the company hasn’t changed its policies against hate speech targetting Russian people.

Russia has already blocked access to Facebook, limited access to Twitter and criminalised the intentional spreading of what Moscow deems to be “fake” reports, as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on social media and news outlets like the BBC.

Big tech companies, meanwhile, have moved to restrict Russian state media from using their platforms to spread propaganda and misinformation.