Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp face ban and criminal investigation in Russia after Meta allowed hate speech against Russian invaders

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Meta properties – including Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp – are likely to cease operations in Russia altogether, as the US social media company is currently under criminal investigation over calls for violence against Russian invaders. from Ukraine.

“A criminal case has been opened (…) in connection with illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation by employees of the American company Meta, owner of the social networks Facebook and Instagram”, the Russian investigative commission said today, as quoted by Reuters.

For its part, the Prosecutor General’s Office “filed a petition to a court to designate Meta Platforms Inc. as an extremist organization and ban its operations on the territory of the Russian Federation in accordance with the Federal Law on Combating extremist activities”.

These measures came in response to a decision by Meta to relax its rules against hate speech. As revealed yesterday by ReutersMeta instructed its moderation team to temporarily allow users from certain countries to post calls for violence against Russian troops in Ukraine as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

“Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we temporarily allowed forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules, such as violent speech such as ‘death to Russian invaders,'” a spokesperson acknowledged. of Meta in a statement quoted by Reuters. .

However, Meta “still will not allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians”, she added.

Meta’s new rules are in effect in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Hungary, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

The Russian Embassy in Washington quickly required “that US authorities end Meta’s extremist activities and take steps to bring the perpetrators to justice”, and insisted that Meta did not have “the right to determine the standards of truth and set nations against each other”.

Last week, Russian internet regulator Roskomnadzor already took steps to block access to Facebook from Russia. She justified her decision by allegedly discriminating against Russian media and information sources. Recent cases involved the Facebook accounts of the military TV channel Zvezda, the RIA Novosti news agency as well as the international public media Sputnik and Russia Today.

The days of other American social networks in Russia also seem numbered, as they have a long history of disputes with Russian authorities. Most recently YouTube blocked Russia Today and Sputnik across Europe and suspended monetization for a variety of Russian state media channels.

Since February 26 – two days after Russia began invading Ukraine – Twitter’s services have been restricted in Russia, but not completely blocked.

Last year, Russian courts repeatedly fined these companies, alongside China’s TikTok, for failing to remove illegal content or store personal data inside the country.

For example, in late December, Russia imposed fines on tech giants Google and Meta totaling more than $125 million for failing to remove banned content.

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