Russia orders blocking of Instagram used by 62 million people

Hours after Facebook announced its decision to relax rules on some violent posts targeting Russian troops, the Kremlin hit back. The Russian media and internet regulator, which is responsible for online censorship, announced on Friday 11 March that it is “to limit” access to Instagram in the country. Unlike Facebook, this social network, which is also owned by Meta, has been accessible to Russian Internet users until now. This decision, as before for Facebook, would greatly complicate the use of Instagram in Russia, where it is very popular.

Instagram had about 62 million active users in the country at the end of 2021 and was growing, according to statistics aggregation site Statista. Despite the importance in Russia of platforms of Russian origin such as VKontakte, Telegram or Yandex, blocking the US service for photos and short videos will have an impact.

Instagram is “critical for SMEs, from beauty blogs to cafes”, said Max Seddon, correspondent in Russia for the financial times, on Twitter“For Moscow’s elites, Instagram represents … everything”, added Polina Ivanova, also a journalist for the British daily. It’s here “head” platform for small businesses, who sometimes use it as a website, as a vehicle for advertising or communication with customers, added Andrea Palasciano, from the AFP agency in Moscow, add to already have “Bought socks or furniture, booked a massage, made a restaurant and a dentist appointment” because of this in Russia.

“Instagram is used in Russia by a young audience, unlike Facebook. The users are not necessarily politicized,” deciphers Olga Bronnikova, sociology lecturer and researcher at the University of Grenoble-Alpes and member of the research collective “Net-resistors, criticism and escape from digital coercion in Russia”

“In Russia, Instagram, like Youtube, is above all a way to take advantage of the image, carry out a professional activity and communicate. After Facebook’s shutdown, some Russian internet users also see the sanction against Instagram as a harbinger of YouTube blocking. The video platform is also widely used. In addition, with the shrinking of media space in Russia, bloggers, often journalists who could no longer find work, created their channel and generated revenue through advertisements. †

Shortly before that, legal action had been taken against the American company because of: “call for murders of Russian citizens by employees of the company Meta”† At the same time, the Russian prosecutor’s office requested that Facebook be considered an organization “extremist”.

Live from March 11: the latest information about the war in Ukraine

Facebook had announced the day before, Thursday, March 10, that it would “show of indulgence” in his moderation for certain messages hostile to Russian forces. “Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we are lenient on forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules for violent expression, such as ‘death to Russian invaders’,” confirmed to Agence France-Presse Andy Stone, communications manager of Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram. “We will not continue to allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians”he adds.

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Meta’s statement came after the publication of a Reuters article citing emails exchanged by content moderators at the social media giant claiming that the policy update applied to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Read also Facebook’s Sometimes Absurd Moderation Rules Revealed by the ‘Guardian’

Facebook blocked in Russia, China and North Korea

Facebook’s moderation rules prohibit threats, insults and calls for violence, especially when they target people because of their race, religion or sexual orientation. In some cases and depending on the context, the social network authorizes certain expressions of hostile language, with rules that are sometimes very complex and difficult to apply.

A year ago, the British daily the guard revealed the contents of an internal Facebook moderation guide, notably explaining that certain types of violent posts against “public figures” could be tolerated, if it were a matter of “figurative formulations” provided that the intended person does not come into direct contact with the message. The daily quoted as an example the sentence “It will be time [le premier ministre britannique] Boris Johnson dies or resigns”which can be left online.

There is little risk that Russian soldiers and leaders will see the hostile messages of recent weeks appearing en masse on Facebook: access to the social network has been blocked throughout the territory of the Russian Federation, by the decision of the internet regulator of the Russian Federation. country. So far, only two other countries have permanently blocked access to Facebook: North Korea and China.

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Mr Stone explained that this decision to relax moderation rules in part was made because, “in the specific context” [de la guerre en Ukraine] many posts refer to “Russian soldiers” to talk about the Russian army. Our rules continue to prohibit attacks on Russians [en tant qu’individus]† †

The Embassy of the Russian Federation in the United States, located in Washington, had protested against this decision and asked the American government to end the “extremist activities” from Meta.

Read also After two months of criticism, Facebook defends its moderation record

The world with AFP