Instagram users in Russia have been notified that the service will shut down beginning at midnight on Sunday after its owner Meta Platforms said last week it would allow social media users in Ukraine to post messages such as ‘Death to the Russian invaders.’
An email message from the state communications regulator told people to move their photos and videos from Instagram before it was shut down, and encouraged them to switch to Russia’s own ‘competitive internet platforms.’
The move comes after Meta, which also owns Facebook, said on Friday that it temporarily changed its hate speech policy in Ukraine, in the wake of Russia’s February 24 invasion.
The company said it would be wrong to prevent Ukrainians from ‘expressing their resistance and fury at the invading military forces.’
But Russian officials have said the new rules allow ‘calls for violence’ against Russian soldiers, and on Friday, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office called for a criminal investigation to be launched against Meta, citing Russian propaganda and extremism laws.
The shut down of Instagram comes one week after the country announced it was shutting down Facebook, over a leak from a content moderator, which showed that the social media site was bending its own rules to allow for some calls to violence against Russian invaders in Ukraine. The company later confirmed the leak.
‘I want to be crystal clear: Our policies are focused on protecting people’s right to free speech as an expression of self-defense in reaction to a military invasion of their country,’ Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of public affairs, said in a statement to the Washington Post.
‘The fact is, 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 be rightly viewed as unacceptable.’
In internal emails to moderators that Reuters has obtained, Meta officials also specified that death threats directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko would also be permitted – unless they also targeted Russian civilians or contained additional ‘indicators of credibility.’
That decision was greeted with outrage in Russia, where authorities have opened a criminal investigation against Meta, and are seeking to classify the company as an ‘extremist organization,’ alleging the platform was used to incite ‘mass riots accompanied by violence.’
They also announced in the wake of the announcement that the country’s Prosecutor General’s Office asked state media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to Instagram over the ‘distribution of information of information materials containing calls to carry out violent actions against Russians, including servicemen.’
The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, tweeted Friday that Instagram has 80 million users in Russia, who he said will be cut ‘off from one another and from the rest of the world as [about] 80 percent of people in Russia follow an account outside their country.
‘This is wrong,’ he tweeted.
The message to Instagram users from the regulator Roskomnadzor described the decision to allow calls for violence against Russians as a breach of international law.
‘We need to ensure the psychological health of citizens, especially children and adolescents, to protect them from harassment and insults online,’ it said, explaining the decision to close down the platform.
But the move is just the latest social media company to abandon the country since its invasion of Ukraine in February.
The Google Cloud, Google Pay and YouTube monetization are now effectively dead in Russia as of Thursday.
Apple has also shut down many services, including its Apple Pay technology, and stop selling hardware in Russia. This caused for long lines at train stations in Moscow.
Microsoft, IMB and most of the major American credit card companies have stopped doing business in the country as well.
Putin is now fighting back, with Russian agents allegedly showing up at the home of a Google executive in Moscow to clamp down on an app being used by his biggest opponent.
Google officials say the supposed FSB agents gave an order to the female Google executive to either take the app down in 24 hours or be jailed in a never-before disclosed intimidation campaign last year, according to the Washington Post reported.
After the tech giant moved the executive to a hotel room under a pseudonym, the same agents came and visited her again to tell them they still wanted the app down.
Within hours, the Smart Voting app – an app created by Putin opponent Alexi Navalny which allowed Russians to register protest votes against Putin – was taken down from both the Apple and Google app stores.
The Post was told that an Apple employee in Moscow had received similar threats from the FSB, the successor to the KGB.
The names and nationalities of the two employees for the US-based companies have not been revealed.
Source: Daily Mail
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