Russia’s playing chicken with Facebook

Russia’s restricting Facebook over fact-check labels. Imagine what it'll do now that Facebook deplatformed RT.

The Facebook logo displayed across a smartphone

Completely deplatforming Russia could have consequences.

Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

In the days since Russia invaded Ukraine, calls have mounted for Facebook and other U.S. tech companies to curb or deplatform Russia’s propaganda arms.

On Friday, Russia sort of beat Facebook to the punch.

The country’s communications regulator announced plans to “partially restrict” Facebook in Russia due to allegations of “censorship” against Russian state media. In reality, Meta’s vice president of Global Affairs Nick Clegg said, the company had simply fact-checked and labeled posts from pages run by Russian outlets. Russia didn’t like that and demanded Facebook remove the labels. Facebook refused. And here we are.

Facebook fact-checks news outlets all over the world. But Russia’s ham-fisted response reveals why banning the country’s state-sponsored social media accounts altogether isn’t so easy.

There’s a good argument to be made that pulling the plug would prevent Russia from continuing to spread lies as a pretext for war — and Meta, at Ukraine’s request, has suspended some Russian state media outlets from its platforms inside Ukraine. (After publication, Meta also said it would block RT and Sputnik throughout the E.U.) “Would you defend the German state’s right to some confused notion of ‘free speech,’ even as Hitler sets out to destroy the lives of millions?” Justin Hendrix of Tech Policy Press wrote last week.

But Russia’s retaliation shows that it’s not just state speech at risk. Fully cutting off the Russian government could spark an even more extreme retaliation that ends up hurting Russian people who oppose the war. Anti-war protests have broken out all over Russia, with Russian nationals rising up against their government’s actions. And they’re using social media not only to share what they’re seeing on the ground, but also to access information that doesn’t come from Russian state sources.

If something as small as fact-check labels could provoke that response, there’s no telling what the government would do if it found itself fully deplatformed. It’s not just Facebook either. Over the weekend, Twitter said some users in Russia were also unable to access its services.

It’s in Russia’s interest to play chicken with Big Tech, of course. By overreacting to a little thing, Russia seems to be betting that Facebook won’t do the big thing — that is, cut off its propaganda machine entirely. If there’s one thing Mark Zuckerberg does seem to truly believe in, it’s that Facebook is an important tool for freedom of expression around the world. If it looks like Russia might cut its people off from that tool at a time when they arguably need it most, it’s easy to see how Meta might opt not to make any drastic moves.

So far, Meta hasn’t caved to Russia’s demands. On Friday night, in fact, it took the added step of preventing Russian state media from running or making money from ads on its platforms. Google and Twitter have done the same. That’s encouraging, given tech giants’ track records.

Last year, Apple and Google removed an app linked to Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny from their app stores after Russia reportedly threatened to hold their local staff criminally accountable. Facebook has yielded to government orders in other countries, including in Turkey where it blocked posts from a Kurdish militia group that opposed the government. Facebook told ProPublica at the time that it agreed to block the posts because otherwise it would have been completely shut down in Turkey.

This time, the whole world’s watching— and condemning — Russia. Facebook appears to be relying on that fact to back up its decision. “Ordinary Russians are using Meta's apps to express themselves and organize for action,” Clegg said Friday. “We want them to continue to make their voices heard, share what’s happening, and organize through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.”

As long as they still can.

This story also appeared in Protocol's Policy newsletter. It has been updated to include additional details about Meta's actions against RT and Sputnik in the E.U.


Google is wooing a coalition of civil rights allies. It’s working.

The tech giant is adept at winning friends even when it’s not trying to immediately influence people.

A map display of Washington lines the floor next to the elevators at the Google office in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As Google has faced intensifying pressure from policymakers in recent years, it’s founded trade associations, hired a roster of former top government officials and sometimes spent more than $20 million annually on federal lobbying.

But the company has also become famous in Washington for nurturing less clearly mercenary ties. It has long funded the work of laissez-faire economists who now defend it against antitrust charges, for instance. It’s making inroads with traditional business associations that once pummeled it on policy, and also supports think tanks and advocacy groups.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Sustainability. It can be a charged word in the context of blockchain and crypto – whether from outsiders with a limited view of the technology or from insiders using it for competitive advantage. But as a CEO in the industry, I don’t think either of those approaches helps us move forward. We should all be able to agree that using less energy to get a task done is a good thing and that there is room for improvement in the amount of energy that is consumed to power different blockchain technologies.

So, what if we put the enormous industry talent and minds that have created and developed blockchain to the task of building in a more energy-efficient manner? Can we not just solve the issues but also set the standard for other industries to develop technology in a future-proof way?

Keep Reading Show less
Denelle Dixon, CEO of SDF

Denelle Dixon is CEO and Executive Director of the Stellar Development Foundation, a non-profit using blockchain to unlock economic potential by making money more fluid, markets more open, and people more empowered. Previously, Dixon served as COO of Mozilla. Leading the business, revenue and policy teams, she fought for Net Neutrality and consumer privacy protections and was responsible for commercial partnerships. Denelle also served as general counsel and legal advisor in private equity and technology.


Everything you need to know about tech layoffs and hiring slowdowns

Will tech companies and startups continue to have layoffs?

It’s not just early-stage startups that are feeling the burn.

Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

What goes up must come down.

High-flying startups with record valuations, huge hiring goals and ambitious expansion plans are now announcing hiring slowdowns, freezes and in some cases widespread layoffs. It’s the dot-com bust all over again — this time, without the cute sock puppet and in the midst of a global pandemic we just can’t seem to shake.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.


Sink into ‘Love, Death & Robots’ and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Our favorite picks for your weekend pleasure.

Image: A24; 11 bit studios; Getty Images

We could all use a bit of a break. This weekend we’re diving into Netflix’s beautifully animated sci-fi “Love, Death & Robots,” losing ourselves in surreal “Men” and loving Zelda-like Moonlighter.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.


This machine would like to interview you for a job

Companies are embracing automated video interviews to filter through floods of job applicants. But interviews with a computer screen raise big ethical questions and might scare off candidates.

Although automated interview companies claim to reduce bias in hiring, the researchers and advocates who study AI bias are these companies’ most frequent critics.

Photo: Johner Images via Getty Images

Applying for a job these days is starting to feel a lot like online dating. Job-seekers send their resume into portal after portal and a silent abyss waits on the other side.

That abyss is silent for a reason and it has little to do with the still-tight job market or the quality of your particular resume. On the other side of the portal, hiring managers watch the hundreds and even thousands of resumes pile up. It’s an infinite mountain of digital profiles, most of them from people completely unqualified. Going through them all would be a virtually fruitless task.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Latest Stories