Russia has announced plans to block access to Instagram and launched a criminal case against its owner, Meta Platforms Inc, after the company said it would allow posts that call for “death to the Russian invaders”.
Friday’s move is the latest in Russia’s confrontation with United States-based social media platforms that has escalated since its invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow has already limited access to Twitter and blocked Facebook, which is also owned by Meta.
Russia’s communications and media regulator, Roskomnadzor, said it was restricting access to hugely popular Instagram because of the platform is spreading “calls to commit violent acts against Russian citizens, including military personnel”.
The ban will come into effect on Monday, it said, allowing active Instagram users “time to transfer their photos and videos to other social networks and notify their followers”.
In response, Meta’s Global Affairs President Nick Clegg defended what he described as a temporary decision “taken in extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances”.
“I want to be crystal clear: Our 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,” he said in a statement.
“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 rightly be viewed as unacceptable.”
He noted that the policy only applies in Ukraine and the company hasn’t changed its policies against hate speech targeting Russian people.
But Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, had already said it was launching an investigation of Meta, and prosecutors pushed for the Silicon Valley giant to be branded “extremist”.
“A criminal case has been initiated … in connection with illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation by employees of the American company Meta, which owns the social networks Facebook and Instagram,” said the committee, which reports directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It was not immediately clear what the consequences of the criminal case might be.
Meta’s Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp services are all popular in Russia, with 7.5 million, 50.8 million and 67 million users last year respectively, according to researcher Insider Intelligence.
Russia’s RIA news agency, citing a source, said the legal moves will not affect WhatsApp as the messaging app is considered a means of communication not a way to post information.