Of course, blocking Facebook isn’t actually about upholding free speech for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has spent years eroding press and on-line freedoms and arresting protesters. But opposite to what Western observers may assume, it additionally isn’t actually about limiting Russians’ entry to social media — a minimum of, in a roundabout way. It’s an act of intimidation geared toward bringing different social networks to heel.
In many international locations, Facebook is a dominant social platform, and a blackout of the blue app would deal a stifling blow to on-line communication. That was the case in Myanmar when the army blocked the social community as a part of a marketing campaign to silence dissent after a coup final 12 months.
But it isn’t the case in Russia, the place Facebook is utilized by lower than one in 10 individuals, in response to knowledge from eMarketer. Far extra fashionable are VK, a Russian-owned social community modeled on Facebook, together with YouTube, the messaging app Telegram, and Facebook’s sister apps WhatsApp and Instagram. For the overwhelming majority of Russians, a block on Facebook itself ought to have little to no affect on each day life or communication.
Tellingly, preliminary indications had been that WhatsApp and Instagram would stay accessible to Russians, a minimum of in the intervening time, although they’re additionally owned by Facebook’s dad or mum firm Meta. So would YouTube, regardless of its personal restrictions on Russian shops equivalent to RT and Sputnik. There had been some reviews that Twitter, which is not broadly utilized in Russia however serves as an information conduit with the West, was inaccessible in Russia on Friday, although neither the nation nor the corporate confirmed that it had been blocked.
Blocking Facebook, then, is much less of a broadside towards social media in Russia than it is a shot throughout the bow — a dramatic however largely symbolic act that serves as a warning and a menace. Because Facebook is so distinguished within the West, the block stands to make large headlines exterior Russia whereas frightening comparatively little outcry from inside. And now the censorship company can level to its laborious line towards Facebook in its ongoing disputes with each Meta and different social media corporations which have bigger Russian person bases.
Indeed, Roskomnadzor stated on its Telegram channel — its personal social media platform of alternative for speaking with the world — that it lately despatched letters to YouTube dad or mum firm Google and TikTok urgent them on points together with their restrictions on Russian state media and TikTok’s algorithm recommending war-related movies to minors. (Chinese-owned TikTok, a significant main supply of movies of the battle from Ukraine, has been struggling to navigate its relationships with Russia and the West because the conflict unfolds.) Last month, Russia warned main U.S. tech corporations that they needed to adjust to a brand new regulation requiring them to arrange authorized entities contained in the nation, giving the federal government extra leverage over them.
It’s unclear at this level whether or not Russia’s block on Facebook will show short-term or everlasting — and whether or not it will likely be adopted by crackdowns on different social networks within the nation. But it is consistent with a playbook that Russia and different international locations have more and more used to attempt to exert management over social media, stated Allie Funk, senior analysis analyst for know-how and democracy at Freedom House.
“We’re increasingly seeing platforms being blocked as a way for governments to coerce companies to abide by the state’s censorship and surveillance demands,” Funk stated. She cited Nigeria’s seven-month block of Twitter, which it lifted in January after Twitter agreed to requests that included stationing staff in Nigeria and promising to respect native legal guidelines and tradition. “They’re exploiting their role as gatekeepers to a particular market, and they’re trying to use the platforms’ power for their own political gain.”
Cat Zakrzewski contributed to this report.