Russia blocked citizens' access to Meta’s platforms on Friday in an attempt to control the narrative over the country's invasion of Ukraine.
Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, made the announcement Friday morning. It said it was blocking access to the platforms because of 26 cases of “discrimination against Russian media.”
Meta has been demoting posts from users linking to Russian state media, which had been pushing false narratives about the conflict. Nick Clegg, Meta's recently appointed president of Global Affairs, announced new features Tuesday that allow users to send encrypted DMs on Instagram. (WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger both already offer encryption.) "We feel our priorities are first to continue to make our services available for people to use as safely and securely as possible," Clegg told reporters on a call.
Russia's efforts to block access to Meta's platforms are the latest example of the government's attempts to control the public's access to independent information. The Duma, Russia's parliament, passed legislation on Friday that could send anyone who shares "fake" information about the Russian military to jail for up to 15 years. Independent TV and radio broadcasters have recently shut down, ahead of the vote and threats by Russia's prosecutor general for their accurate portrayal of the war in Ukraine. TV Rain, the country's last independent TV station, broadcast "Swan Lake" as its final act, a callback to moments of turmoil in the former Soviet Union.
In the wake of the law passing, the BBC temporarily suspended operations in Russia, with Tim Davie, director-general of the broadcaster, saying it “appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism."
"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,” Clegg said in a statement on Twitter. “We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they remain available to people to safely and securely express themselves and organize for action.”
The crackdown on traditional media and social platforms alike is happening amid a wave of anti-war protests in Russia. Some polls, though hard to parse amid the Kremlin’s tight censorship of the media and civilian communications, have suggested Putin is losing his grip on Russian public opinion. Russia says it does not plan to institute martial law over the protests, though at least 6,000 have been arrested across the country since it began its assault on Ukraine.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Meta.