Authorities in Russia have added Meta – which owns Facebook and Instagram-to a list of terrorist and extremist organizations, according to the country’s Interfax news agency.
Russia views Meta as terrorist
After banning in March all platforms linked to the Meta group, which controls Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, throughout Russia, now the Kremlin has listed the company founded by Mark Zuckerberg, among extremist and terrorist groups, according to a note issued by the government news agency Interfax.
The ban imposed on Meta excluded for the time being the phone messaging company WhatsApp, which continues to operate in Russia, but, instead, totally banned both Facebook and Instagram, which are considered dangerous vehicles of Western propaganda.
According to Interfax, Russia’s financial monitoring agency Rosfinmonitoring included Meta among the dangerous companies, which would put them at risk of having their funds frozen by the country’s banks.
Meta in April had filed an appeal against the Kremlin’s decision to ban its activities from the country, but the Moscow court rejected the appeal, upholding the companies’ ban on Russian territory. Meta’s lawyers had brought forward the argument that the company was not conducting any extremist behavior at all, but the judges did not believe this argument, upholding the charges against Meta.
Despite Moscow restricting access to Facebook and Instagram, many Russian users continue to access them somewhat illegally using virtual private networks (VPNs), demand for which has skyrocketed since some Western Internet services were blocked in March.
Human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov warned those who engage in such behavior that simply displaying Instagram and Facebook logos, or advertising on such networks, could also be considered illegal under Russia’s criminal code.
Senior lawmaker Andrey Klishas, wrote Tuesday on Telegram:
“Rosfinmonitoring’s decision to put Meta on the list of extremist organisations in no way changes the situation for users of Meta’s social networks, users of Meta products are not breaking the law.”
The Russian authorities’ strategy
This move is part of the tough policy adopted by the Moscow regime against Western media after the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine. At the end of March, BBC and Bloomberg withdrew their correspondents because the conditions for broadcasting no longer existed, CNN stopped its broadcasts from Russia, while Twitter was also banned for the same reasons Facebook and Instagram were banned.
But censorship has also hit the Russian media, Novaya Gazeta reported that the Russian communications monitoring agency Roskomnadzor had asked Novaya Gazeta itself, Dozhd, Mediazona and other Russian media outlets in March to delete some of their articles for calling Putin’s operations in Ukraine “war.”
On the other hand, the penalties for those who do not abide by the very strict rules of Russian censorship face sentences of up to 15 years in prison. For some time now, alongside the aforementioned VPNs, the dark web and even text messaging have been back in vogue.
According to some sources, many Western media outlets such as the BBC had seen record numbers of contacts in Russia since the outbreak of the conflict.
In this regard, BBC director general himself, Tim Davie, said:
“In a conflict where disinformation and propaganda is rife, there is a clear need for factual and independent news people can trust.”
The famous British television station is allegedly beaming its broadcasts on shortwave, a technology that allows the radio signal to travel long distances and which had been abandoned in 2008 and still widely used by radio amateurs.
Used a lot in Russia to escape Russian repression is the dark web, the underground part of the web, because it is not indexed in search engines and is often used for illicit and criminal activities, and is now being used by the Russians to escape censorship.
Twitter was the first social to provide a searchable version through Tor, the main browser for surfing without being tracked, because data bounces through a multi-layered encrypted network, like the layers of an onion. Hence the name “The Onion Router” with the acronym TOR. According to some sources, Facebook also appears to be using this channel in order to be accessible in Russia, despite the ban.
According to the British Guardian newspaper, in recent weeks the Russian government allegedly set up fake sites of some major Western media, such as the Guardian itself, but also the German Bild and Der Spiegel, which openly criticized Ukraine and sanctions against Russia.
Meta itself said in late September that it had removed dozens of fake accounts that linked to these fake sites of major Western media outlets:
“They would post original articles that criticised Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, supported Russia and argued that Western sanctions on Russia would backfire.
They would then promote these articles and also original memes and YouTube videos across many Internet services, including Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Twitter, [and] petitions websites.”