Russian officials added U.S. tech company Meta to its “extremists” list, resulting in a ban on all Meta products and subsidiaries.
A March ruling in the Moscow City Court blocked Meta from operating in Russia, meaning no access to products like Facebook and Instagram, which officials accused of engaging in “Russophobia” as Russian President Vladimir Putin kicked off his invasion of Ukraine.
An appeal in June resulted in the court upholding the original decision, which went into immediate effect, but it was not until Oct. 11 that officials designated the company as a platform for “extremist” and “terrorist” activities.
The ban does not apply to Whatsapp, the BBC reported. Meta responded by rejecting accusations that it promotes any anti-Russian sentiments.
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A Russian senator said that “users of Meta products do not violate the law.”
“The legal situation has not changed in any way since the court banned Meta products,” Russian Sen. Andrei Klishas said of the new designation.
Prosecutors have already handed out notices to citizens warning of administrative or criminal liability for using Meta’s social media platforms. The ban would allow officials to freeze bank accounts related to Meta’s funding in Russia.
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The designation would also allow the government to fine or even imprison any Russian citizen or company that purchases ads on the Meta platforms, leading to a prison sentence of up to 10 years for “sponsoring extremism,” The Moscow Times reported.
The invasion of Ukraine kicked off a purge of dissidents in news and the public, with several prominent news anchors and journalists forced to flee the country as police cracked down on all protests that broke out in response to Putin’s war.
The BBC reported in March that it saw traffic to its Russian-language news website triple after Russia started a crackdown on any broadcasts that weren’t state-sanctioned.
Rebekah Koffler, author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America” and a former DIA intelligence officer, told Fox News Digital that the move is just the latest measure by Putin to tighten government control over information flow in the country.
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“Shortly after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government banned Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other Western social media because they provided information about the war that contradicted the disinformation campaign conducted by the Kremlin, portraying the war as a defensive operation to demilitarize and de-nazify Ukraine,” Koffler said. “Some people used VPN to bypass the ban, so this latest move targets these ‘violators.’”
Koffler explained that Putin’s federal law “On Countering Extreme Activity” defines “extremist activity very broadly, making it a crime to criticize government officials and policy, using language such as ‘diminishing national dignity’ and ‘publicly expressing slander’ as examples of such ‘crimes.’”
“This is an intimidation tactic by the Russian government to silence its critics, standard in Putin’s playbook,” she added.