Russia blocks access to Facebook but not Instagram and WhatsApp

The move marks a major shift in the Russian internet ecosystem, which is rapidly diverge from the West as the Russian Internet Agency cracks down on Western media and pulls some Western tech companies out of Russia. Russia is one of the few governments around the world to block Facebook and join China and North Korea.

The restrictions on Facebook are part of a broader Russian effort to restrict citizens’ access to news of the war in Ukraine, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a news briefing Friday. She noted that the government launched a crackdown on journalists in the country, threatening to fine or imprison them for using banned words to describe the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“That’s the pattern,” she said. “So certainly we are very concerned about this and concerned about the threat to freedom of expression in the country.”

WhatsApp and Instagram, also owned by Meta, do not appear to be under the announced ban as they are not mentioned in the post by Roskomnadzor. Instagram is more popular in Russia than Facebook and is used by many influencers.

Based on data from eMarketer, only about 7.3 percent of Internet users in Russia use Facebook compared to 51 percent on Instagram and 66 percent on WhatsApp.

Roskomnadzor has ramped up pressure on major tech platforms in recent days, announcing that it has also sent messages to Google and China-owned video sharing platform TikTok. As of Friday afternoon, it appeared that TikTok, as well as YouTube from Google, could still be accessed in Russia. Twitter has said since Saturday that it has been “restricted for some people in Russia”.

“We are aware of the reports, but we do not currently see anything significantly different from what we previously shared [on twitter.com] “This would indicate a block,” Twitter spokeswoman Elizabeth Busby said.

Social media has become a critical source of information about the war in Ukraine, as the Russian government strictly censors media reports about the conflict. On Friday, Roskomnadzor also blocked access to the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Deutsche Welle. A number of Ukrainian news sites are blocked inside Russia, apparently by the Russian government, said Brett Kalou, a threat analyst at Emsisoft, a cybersecurity firm.

The ban is an escalation from last week, when Roskomnadzor said it would slow traffic to Facebook. Over the course of the week, Roskomnadzor publicly notified Facebook. She said she had sent several letters to the company asking it to remove restrictions on Russian media, accusing the company of trying to “make a one-sided image”. In one message, the company called for the lifting of its ban in Europe on RT and Sputnik, two Russian state media outlets.

“Soon, millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their daily ways of communicating with family, and silenced from speaking out,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of public affairs, said in a tweet about the decision. “We will continue to do everything in our power to restore our services so that they remain available for people to express themselves safely, securely and organized for work.”

development is The latest escalation of the conflict began shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Facebook has begun to verify the authenticity of misleading posts published by Russian state media, which are active on both Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram.

Clegg said Russia had asked the company to stop checking the facts. When the company refused, Russia began restricting traffic in what it called a “partial” shutdown.

At the same time, Ukrainian officials have been begging Facebook to shut down its services completely in Russia to send a message to the government, but Facebook executives have also resisted because they believe the service is an important channel for people to organize and find safety — especially as Russia shuts down or restricts local media.

Heather Kelly contributed to this report.