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Russia labels Meta an ‘extremist’ organization, bans Instagram

Russia’s Investigative Committee, the nation’s peak criminal and anti-corruption investigation body, has opened a probe into whether Meta is an extremist organization.

The move follows Meta’s decision last week to relax rules about exhortations to commit violence posted to its Facebook and Instagram properties – but only within Ukraine.

Facebook’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, justified the stance in the tweet below.

A visit to the Investigative Committee’s website is a trip into Vladimir Putin’s alternative reality. It describes Ukraine as the nation bombing hospitals. But the notice of the investigation into Meta appears to be entirely serious. The Committee is claiming extra-territorial jurisdiction over the activities of Meta’s staff – a usually futile course of action.

While that probe continues, Russia’s tech regulator Roskomnadzor has ordered that Instagram be blocked from Russia, again citing Meta’s policy on posts promoting violence.

The regulator announced the ban on March 11 and said it will apply blocks as of 00:00 on March 14, with the in-between period offered so that Russian users can download their data, move it to other social networks, and inform their followers and friends of the change.

Left unsaid is that Russians now find it hard to use services other than those hosted in Russia, and that those services are increasingly subject to pervasive surveillance as the Putin regime moves towards zero tolerance of dissent about its policies – and especially its illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking of Ukraine, its vice prime minister and minister for digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, thanked Facebook for its stance.

Fedorov has also kept up his campaign of using social media to call for tech companies to make life hard for Russia. Over the weekend he implored Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle to end support of their products in Russia. He’s also given Mastercard a hurry-up to quit Russia completely and tweeted in Chinese to urge Union Pay to do its bit.

Taiwan’s ASUS was also the subject of a ministerial tweet and has reportedly decided to quit its limited Russian operations.

Another organization that has acted is exercise tracking app Strava, which has temporarily suspended ops in Russia and Belarus. The Register hopes the service has done this subtly, as the app has already revealed the movements of military personnel, and offers features that allow users to be tracked by family and friends concerned for their safety – just the sort of open-source intelligence that could be horribly misused during a war. ®