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Amid The Russia-Ukraine War, Moscow Attempts To Control Online News Narrative On Social Media

While Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities, another fight raged online and on the airwaves.

Moscow increased its efforts to control the narrative in news media and on internet platforms, while Facebook-owned Meta Platforms Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google imposed limitations on Russia’s state-controlled media outlets in Ukraine and around the world.

On Friday, Russia announced that it will partially limit Facebook, a move that Meta attributed to the company’s refusal to comply with a government order to halt independent fact-checking of various Russian official media sources. By Saturday, Twitter had also announced that its service will be blocked for some Russian users.

According to users, images and videos on Facebook were slower to load after the slowdown was announced, and Facebook Messenger had significant intervals of not loading at all. Twitter remained slow on mobile devices despite the fact that it has been subjected to a punitive penalty since March. Many governmental websites, including the Kremlin’s, have been down in recent days.

The standoff is the latest stage in a long-running conflict with Russia, in which platforms risk government-imposed limitations in the country as it strives to punish dissidents while safeguarding state-run media.

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Major social, video, and livestreaming platforms Facebook to TikTok and Twitch are under increased pressure to address conflict-related falsehoods on their platforms, particularly the transmission of deceptive footage.

The escalation of Russia’s spat with big tech comes just days before a deadline set by Moscow for large foreign internet firms to comply with a new law requiring them to establish formal representation in the country, which might make it easier for the Kremlin to regulate platforms. It comes after a series of fines and slowdowns imposed by the Russian government on platforms that failed to remove unlawful content, according to the Russian authorities.

As of Sunday, only Apple, Spotify, and Viber have met all three conditions of the law, according to an online list maintained by Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor. They are as follows: opening an account with the regulator, allowing users to communicate directly with the company, and establishing a representative office.

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Russia warned the corporations with a ban on advertising earlier this month if they did not comply. Russian officials have warned that harsher restrictions, such as speed limits or outright bans, could be imposed as a result.

Big IT companies must also weigh demands from Ukrainian officials and allies around the world, who have urged them to exclude Russian users from their services in order to prevent the propagation of false information, while also allowing dissidents access to critical digital tools.

“While you are creating the Metaverse, Russia is destroying real life in Ukraine! We request that you block Russian access to the @facebookapp and @instagram for as long as tanks and missiles assault our kindergartens and hospitals!” On Sunday, Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov took to Twitter.

In response to the requests, Meta’s head of global relations, Nick Clegg, tweeted on Sunday that deactivating Facebook and Instagram in Russia would “suppress valuable expression at a critical time.”

It was evident that others in the tech industry were facing similar quandaries. After declaring in a post on Sunday that the Telegram messaging app was considering blocking some channels for disseminating false information, founder Pavel Durov announced the business would no longer do so after receiving user input.

The activities of state-controlled media, which were sanctioned by the EU on Sunday, have been a major point of contention between Moscow and major digital platforms, with activists and politicians demanding that the Kremlin-sponsored sites be demonetized or banned.

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