Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications agency, announced Friday that it plans to block access to Instagram after parent company Meta said it would allow calls for violence against Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukrainian invasion.
Earlier in the day, Russia’s prosecutor general had called for Meta as a whole to be labeled as an “extremist” organization and opened a criminal case, before the Roskomnadzor moved ahead to ban the platform.
According to a post on Telegram, the block will go into effect the morning of March 14.
“Meta Platforms Inc. made an unprecedented decision by allowing the posting of information containing calls for violence against Russian citizens on its social networks Facebook and Instagram,” a Roskomnadzor Telegram announcement read, in Russian. Meta had tweaked its hate speech policy Thursday to allow some calls to violence against Russians on Facebook and Instagram, specifically in the context of the Ukraine invasion, according to emails reviewed by Reuters.
“We have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to Russian invaders,’” a Meta spokesperson told Reuters. “We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”
"I want to be crystal clear: our policies are focused on protecting people's rights to speech as an expression of self-defense in reaction to a military invasion of their country," Nick Clegg said in a statement Friday.
Facebook and Instagram have taken a harder line against Russian propaganda than Twitter and TikTok, who have been in turn been treated more sparingly by the Russian government. Instead of outright blocking Twitter, for example, Russia has instead chosen to restrict the platform in inconsistent ways. Twitter rolled out a Tor address Thursday to help Russians bypass what appears to be a soft block. TikTok is still available, but Russian users can’t see any content made outside the country.
Russia’s treatment of Instagram, in particular, is unique because the country is giving advance notice. It’s possible Russia will block the platform beforehand, but as of Friday, users have 48 hours to save their photos and messages.
Instagram is significantly more popular than Facebook in the country, especially amongst young people. According to Sensor Tower, Instagram has been downloaded from Russia’s App Store and Google Play 166 million times. Facebook, for comparison, has been downloaded approximately 56 million times and WhatsApp approximately 348 times.
WhatsApp will not be subject to a ban, according to Russia-sponsored media organization RIA Novosti.