Russia blocked Instagram on Friday, announcing that internet users in that country will be unable to access it, charging that the app was being used to incite violence against Russian soldiers.
After its earlier throttling of Twitter and banning of Facebook, it came as the latest salvo in the information war that is being waged in Moscow.
The Russian communications and media regulator Roskomnadzor said in a statement on Friday afternoon that it is restricting all access to Instagram throughout the country because the service is disseminating “calls to commit violent acts against Russian citizens, including military personnel. We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”
Our statement on what's happening: pic.twitter.com/UQqb3vQeep
— Andy Stone (@andymstone) March 10, 2022
Russia blocks Instagram one week after banning Facebook
Meta Platforms, headed up by Facebook creator Jeffrey Zuckerberg, which also owns Instagram, didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment by the Associated Press. Facebook, another Meta product, was banned by Russia back on March 4.
In its surprise announcement, Roskomnadzor cited a tweet that had been sent by Meta spokesman Andy Stone which referenced a company statement saying the medium had “made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules on violent speech, such as ‘death to the Russian invaders’.”
Something was already in the air on Wednesday, as Russian internet users began noticing that many websites — even including the Kremlin’s own site, Kremlin.ru — were down after Roskomnadzor had announced that it was slowing down access to Twitter.
It had claimed that the media giant had allowed over 3,000 posts featuring suicide, child exploitation, and drug use to remain on the platform, which is a violation of Russian law.
But soon, many other sites were down as well, even entire domains, including Reddit.com and Microsoft.com, according to restofworld.org, a site that focuses on tech issues. According to the site, the upshot is that the Russian government accidentally blocked its own websites in the process of blocking or slowing down other platforms, which the tech site says has happened before.
“With the aim of protecting Russian citizens and forcing the internet service to follow the law on the territory of the Russian Federation, centralized responses have been taken against Twitter starting March 10, 2021 — specifically, the initial throttling of the service’s speeds, in accordance with the regulations,” Roskomnadzor said in its Thursday statement.
Although Twitter is not overly popular in Russia, compared to YouTube and Telegram, the site is used by journalists, researchers, and other public officials there. Interestingly, opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who was poisoned in 2020 but recovered and returned to Russia, has 2.6 million followers on the platform.
Since February 23, 750,000 people on Facebook and Instagram have raised more than $30 million for nonprofits supporting humanitarian relief in Ukraine.
— Andy Stone (@andymstone) March 9, 2022
A spokesperson for Twitter said in a statement “We remain committed to advocating for the Open Internet around the world and (are) deeply concerned by increased attempts to block and throttle online public conversation.”
The company, it went on to state, has “a zero-tolerance policy” for content related to child exploitation adding that it is against its own guidelines to encourage any form of self-harm or illegal activities.
Experts interviewed by Rest of World explained they may know what it was that caused the Twitter slowdown and the loss of some of the Russian government’s own websites. Apparently, when the Russian government attempted to block t.co, Twitter’s link-shortening service, it accidentally blocked any site including the letters and characters “t.co.”
This may be what was behind something noticed by Doug Madory, the director of internet analysis at Kentik, a firm that analyzes network performance, told Rest of World he noticed a 24% drop in traffic routed to Rostelecom, the Russian state telecommunications company, at the same time internet users in Russia began reporting their issues with a number of sites.