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Why has Russia banned using Facebook and Instagram in the country?

A Russian court has upheld a ban on Facebook and Instagram after a prosecutor called for parent company Meta to be designated an “extremist organization”.

A Russian court has upheld a ban on Facebook and Instagram after a prosecutor called for parent company Meta be designated an “extremist organization”.

Earlier this month, the Kremlin had imposed a ban on the two social media platforms for restricting access to Russian media. Now a Russian court has further restricted operations of Facebook and Instagram under the country's "extremism" law. Russian users that still use either site will not be held accountable under the new ruling according to TASS, a Russian state-owned media outlet.

The move by Russian authorities came after Meta Platforms modified its hate speech rules for users of Facebook and Instagram in some countries allowing them to call for violent acts against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion.

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Meta changes hate speech rules for Facebook and Instagram

The court case to ban Meta was brought by the Russian general prosecutor’s office and at the urging of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) after hate speech rules for Facebook and Instagram were modified. Users in some countries bordering Russia can call for violent acts against Russians and Russian soldiers, but only in the context of the invasion of Ukraine according to company emails seen by Reuters.

In a statement, a Meta spokesperson said, "As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as 'death to the Russian invaders.'”

The temporary change also allows for content moderators to let users call for the death of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko or Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, both sites “still won't allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians," the statement read.

According to the email, the temporary policy change applies to users in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

Not all Meta platforms are banned

Judge Olga Solopova of the Tverskoy Court in Moscow granted a request by the FSB and Russian general prosecutor to implement a ban on Meta business activities immediately. Roskomnadzor, the Russian telecommunications regulator, will now be able to block the social media networks and close Meta’s offices across Russia.

Under the ruling, the company must cease commercial activities and can no longer open offices in Russia. But it will not affect all of Meta’s businesses. Meta Inc is also the parent company of WhatsApp, the most widely used messaging service in Russia. It was decided that the app should not be banned under the judge’s decision.

The decision also does not apply to individuals and legal entities using Meta products, a representative from the prosecutor's office explained that they “should not be considered as participating in extremist activities."