Facebook was disabled by Russia’s communications authority due to “discrimination against Russian media and information resources”, according to the commission. Shortly after, Twitter was banned.
In the midst of President Vladimir Putin’s escalating military invasion of Ukraine, Facebook and Twitter were blocked in Russia on Friday.
The country’s communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, said in a statement on Friday that the decision to “ban access to the Facebook network” was made following at least 26 occurrences of “discernment in contradiction of Russian media and information sources” since October 2020. The agency cited Facebook’s recent restrictions in the EU on Kremlin-affiliated media outlets RT and Sputnik.
In reply, Nick Clegg, president of global affairs for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, wrote on Twitter, “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.” “We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so that people may express themselves and organise for action in a safe and secure manner”.
Interfax claimed a few hours later that Roskomnadzor had begun censoring Twitter as well. Despite the accusations, a Twitter spokeswoman claimed the firm isn’t seeing “anything materially different” from the throttling that was previously reported.
The bans would be a step above from the Kremlin’s previous curbs on Facebook and Twitter. Clegg claimed last week that Russia has blocked the usage of the company’s services. Meta’s unwillingness to discontinue independent fact-checking of Russian state-backed media resulted in the throttling. Clegg, in turn, stated that Meta will continue to make its programmes available to Russians, including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
Last week, the Russian government began limiting Twitter, according to data from global internet watchdog NetBlocks, which indicated that the platform was only available through a few Russian telecoms service providers. Twitter acknowledged the limitation at the time and stated that it was “trying to keep [its] service safe and accessible”.
Russian-language Twitter users began claiming on Thursday that Facebook, the BBC, and the independent Russian news source Meduza had been blocked in Russia.
GlobalCheck, a firm that measures internet filtering in countries like Russia and Belarus, found that Russia was slowing down Facebook. That day, user connections to Facebook in Russia were throttled to 25%, the lowest level since the invasion began last month.
On Thursday, NetBlocks told BuzzFeed News, “This is the precise uncertainty that throttling and partial limitations try to generate”. “There is no apparent threshold at which a website or social media platform becomes useless due to slowness”. Throttling becomes a cyber warfare technique in and of itself in this context.
Throttling has lately been used by Russia’s government to control internet sites. During anti-Putin rallies last year, Roskomnadzor launched an innovative approach that effectively limited access to Twitter. Prior to that, Roskomnadzor declared that Twitter service speeds had been reduced because the firm had failed to delete content connected to child pornography, drugs, and suicide, according to Roskomnadzor. Censored Planet, a research group, dubbed it “the first documented centrally coordinated attempt by the Russian government to utilise throttling (rather than outright blocking) at the time”.
Silicon Valley corporations have been caught in the centre of Russia’s incursion. Over the weekend, Facebook and Twitter stated they took down two anti-Ukraine disinformation operations. In Europe, Google-owned services Meta, TikTok, and YouTube have also blocked Kremlin-backed publications RT and Sputnik. Users on Reddit are no longer allowed to post links to Russian state-owned media. Outside of Russia, Apple and Google have also pulled RT from their app stores.