Today’s Cache | Facebook banned in Russia

Today’s Cache is a daily column dissecting big themes at the intersection of technology, business and policy.

Updated - March 23, 2022 10:56 am IST

Published - March 22, 2022 05:09 pm IST

Illustration image of Facebook logo.

Illustration image of Facebook logo. | Photo Credit: AFP

In its latest escalation against Facebook since the Ukraine invasion, Russia has now banned the social network in the country. A Moscow court banned both Facebook and Instagram using Russia’s sweeping law on “extremism” against overseas tech firms.

Russia has increasingly sought to control access to information. Earlier this month, it passed a new law that could effectively punish intentional spreading of “fake” news with as much as 15 years in prison. In Facebook’s case, the company is accused of allowing users in Ukraine to call for violence against occupying forces.

The law comes after a series of pressure from Moscow on U.S. tech firms since the war between Ukraine and Russia began. Earlier, regulators levied fines and slowed access to social media platforms to force the firms to allow the government determine what is acceptable content.

Silicon Valley firms have been pushing back against Kremlin pressure, but Moscow is tightening its grip on the flow of information in the country with this new law. Since the attack on Ukraine, independent media outlets have also been slapped with the “extremist” label, effectively barring them from Russia.

Other Big Tech firms can also become potential targets in Russia. But Google is a lone star. The search giant is one of the few U.S. tech firms still operating in country. Google has said it is complying with all sanction requirements, but it has kept its search and maps services open in the country.

And so far, Google’s search product is out of risk and continues to be the most-used service in the country, even surpassing local search firm Yandex, according to some search metric firms.

But, there are some indications that Silicon Valley company could also lose its legal status in Russia. Recently, Alphabet’s YouTube barred Russia’s military from posting on its site for seven days after the ministry labelled its invasion of Ukraine a “liberation mission” in two videos, which the company removed.

Last week, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media regulator, accused YouTube of running commercials calling for sabotage of railways systems in Russia and Belarus. The regulator noted that the content on the streaming service “clearly demonstrates the anti-Russian position” of Google, and said the company’s behaviour was of a “terrorist nature”.

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