In an expected turn of events, Russia has blocked access to Facebook and Twitter in what seems like a retaliation for the measures taken by these platforms to curb dissemination of information by state-owned media, The Guardian reported. The regulator had blocked Facebook partially last week after claiming that the social network had violated the “rights and freedoms of Russian nationals”, the report added.
The Roskomnadzor, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, said there were 26 cases of discrimination against Russian media by Facebook since October 2020. The platform restricted access to state-backed news services like Russia Today and the RIA news agency, the British daily explained.
“Soon millions of ordinary Russians 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 added that the company will try to restore their services.” — Nick Clegg, President, Global Affairs, Meta
The blocking seems like an attempt by Russia to send a message to the world at large and pressurise social media platforms into toeing its line on the invasion of Ukraine. The war is being fought on multiple fronts and Russia looks keen to control the spread of information to justify its actions against Ukraine which have invited global condemnation. These developments also serve to remind us of the importance of social media platforms in controlling the narratives of conflicts across the world.
Russia passes law against purported peddling of fake news
The blocking of Meta and Twitter comes on the heels of a law against news deemed to be “fake” by the Kremlin. The law criminalises intentional peddling of fake news which will attract 15 years of incarceration, The Verge reported. Fake news will be whatever is deemed as false information about the military. The law also fines people who publicly call for sanctions against Russia, the report added.
It is clearly a move to stop independent reporting of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. Several news media said they were suspending reporting in Russia to protect their journalists, Reuters reported. Some of the organisations include Britain’s BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Company and Bloomberg News, it added. CNN and CBS News were also some of the outlets which stopped their reporting.
The irony seems to be lost on the Russian government as Meta busted an operation spreading fake news about Ukrainians. The company said that it had taken down a disinformation network targeting people in Ukraine, comprising about 40 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and Instagram, according to The Guardian.
Nathaniel Gleicher and David Agranovich, Meta’s head of security policy and director of threat disruption respectively, said the dismantled networks were run from Russia and Ukraine.
“They were operated from Russia and Ukraine and targeted people in Ukraine across multiple social media platforms and through their own websites. We took down this operation, blocked their domains from being shared on our platform, and shared information with other tech platforms, researchers and governments,” they said.
Summary of measures taken by Meta and Twitter
It has been a week since Russia invaded Ukraine and many social media platforms have moved swiftly to contain Russian propaganda on their platforms.
Here are some of the measures taken by Meta which led to its ban:
Meta publishes a blog that is updated every day with the various measures taken by the company including:
- Restricting access to RT and Sputnik across EU: On February 28, Meta said that it will restrict Russian state-controlled media RT and Sputnik across the EU given the exceptional nature of the current situation.
- Demonetisation of state-controlled media: Meta said that it is prohibiting ads from Russian state media and demonetizing their accounts.
- Fact-check labels on posts by state-controlled media: Meta said that it has refused an order from the Russian authorities to stop the independent fact-checking and labelling of content posted on Facebook by four Russian state media organizations.
- Restrictions on accounts based on Ukraine government request: Meta on February 27 said that it restricted access to several accounts in Ukraine, including those belonging to some Russian state media organisations at the request of the Ukrainian government and is reviewing more requests.
- Takedown of network spreading misinformation and fake news: Meta on February 27 announced that it took down a network run by people in Ukraine and Russia for coordinated inauthentic behaviour. “They ran websites posing as independent news entities and created fake personas across many social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram, Odnoklassniki and VK,” the company said.
- Protection from Belarusian-linked Ghostwriter: Meta said that it is rolling out privacy and security measures to help people in Ukraine and Russia protect their accounts from being targeted by Ghostwriter, a threat actor linked to the Belarusian government.
- Encrypted one-to-one chats on Instagram: Meta said that it has made encrypted one-to-one chats available on Instagram for all adults in Ukraine and Russia starting February 28. End-to-end encryption is already available on Meta’s WhatsApp and Messenger and it should allow users in Ukraine to communicate safely without fear of interception.
Twitter, along with Snap and Google, has paused ad sales in Russia. In addition to pausing ad sales, the microblogging platform has also deployed the following measures:
In a thread, Twitter shared the following measures taken by the platform:
- Labels on Tweets sharing links to Russian state-affiliated media websites: Twitter on February 28 said that it is adding labels on Tweets that share links to Russian state-affiliated media websites and is taking steps to significantly reduce the circulation of this content on Twitter. “Since the invasion, we’ve seen more than 45,000 Tweets a day sharing links to Russian state-affiliated media outlets,” Yoel Ruth, head of site integrity at Twitter said.
- Pausing advertisements in Ukraine and Russia: Twitter said that it is temporality pausing ads in Russia and Ukraine to ensure critical public safety information is elevated and ads don’t detract from it.
- Suspension on some tweet recommendations: The company said that people using Twitter in Ukraine and Russia, will not get tweet recommendations from people they do not follow on Home Timeline to reduce the spread of abusive content.
- Search and home timeline prompts: The company said that it launched Search and Home Timeline prompts that point to a Twitter Moment with digital safety and security resources in English, Ukrainian, and Russian.
- Proactive review of content for platform manipulation: Twitter is proactively reviewing tweets to detect platform manipulation and is taking enforcement action against them.
- Monitoring of high-profile accounts: Twitter said it is monitoring the accounts of journalists, government officials, activists, and other high-profile accounts to prevent targeted takeover or manipulation.
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