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Facebook, Instagram banned in Russia under 'extremism' law

Facebook's logo is seen during a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2017. File Photo by Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA-EFE
Facebook's logo is seen during a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2017. File Photo by Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA-EFE

March 21 (UPI) -- Facebook and Instagram have now been completely banned in Russia under the country's "extremism" law just weeks after Russia blocked access to Meta's social media platforms.

The ban, which came from a decision by Judge Olga Solopova of the Tverskoy Court of Moscow, takes effect immediately and prevents Facebook and Instagram from opening branches or conducting business in Russia, according to Russian state media TASS.

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Meta-owned WhatsApp, which is by far the most popular messaging platform in the country, was not included in the ban. According to data published by Statista, more than 76 million people in the country used WhatsApp each month in 2021.

Prosecutors said that individuals who use the platforms in Russia will not be held liable just for using Meta's services.

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"The use of Meta's products by individuals and legal entities should not be considered as participation in extremist activities," a spokesman for the Prosecutor General's Office told TASS.

Last week, Russian regulators cut off access to Instagram for about 80 million users, arguing that Meta was allowing posts that provoke acts of violence against Russian troops in Ukraine.

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Roskomnadzor, the country's communication regulator, had said that Instagram would be blocked after Meta said it would allow Ukrainians to continue posting sometimes violent messages in opposition to the Russian military.

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The regulator previously blocked access to Facebook and allowed only limited access to Twitter in Russia after the companies had restricted state-owned media.

Earlier this month, Russia's Investigative Committee announced that it opened a criminal case against Meta over the policy decisions.

Nick Clegg, Meta president for global affairs, has said the company's 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."

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"If we applied our standard content policies without any adjustments, we would now be removing content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury at the invading military forces, which would rightly be viewed as unacceptable," Clegg said in a statement.

"To be clear, we are only going to apply this policy in Ukraine itself. We have no quarrel with the Russian people. There is no change at all in our policies on hate speech as far as the Russian people are concerned."

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