Russia to restrict Facebook access for 'censoring' its media

Police detain an anti-war protester in central Moscow, on Feb 25, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russia said on Friday (Feb 25) it was partially limiting access to Meta Platforms' Facebook, accusing it of "censoring" Russian media, the latest in a series of steps against US social media giants and announced a day after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Moscow has been trying to exert tighter control over the Internet and big tech for years, something critics say threatens individual and corporate freedom, and is part of a wider crackdown against outspoken opponents of the Kremlin.

The state communications regulator said Facebook had ignored its demands to lift restrictions on four Russian media outlets on its platform - RIA news agency, the Defence Ministry's Zvezda TV, and websites gazeta.ru and lenta.ru.

Meta's head of global affairs, Nick Clegg, said in a statement on Twitter: "Yesterday, Russian authorities ordered us to stop the independent fact-checking and labelling of content posted to Facebook by four Russian state-owned media organisations. We refused. As a result, they have announced they will be restricting the use of our services."

Meta, which has long been under pressure to combat misinformation on its platforms, partners with third-party fact-checkers, including Reuters, which rate and label content for veracity. Meta says that content rated false, altered or partly false is shown to fewer users.

Clegg said "ordinary Russians" were using Meta's apps to "express themselves and organise for action" and that the company wanted them to continue to do so.

Moscow has also increased pressure on domestic media, threatening to block reports that contain what it describes as "false information" regarding its military operation in Ukraine, where Russian missiles were pounding Kyiv and families cowered in shelters.

It was not immediately clear what Russia's restrictions on Facebook would involve. Last year Moscow slowed down the speed of Twitter in a punitive move.

"In accordance with the decision of the General Prosecutor's Office, starting from Feb 25, partial access restrictions are being imposed by Roskomnadzor on the Facebook social network," the regulator, Roskomnadzor, said in a statement.

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Meta has already irked Russia's authorities. Moscow routinely fines the company small sums for what it says is a failure to delete illegal content quickly enough.

In December, it issued a much bigger fine of two billion roubles (S$30 million) for what it described as a repeated failure to delete content.

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