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What just happened? A Russian court has found Facebook and Instagram guilty of "extremist activity" after they temporarily allowed users in several countries to post threats of violence and death towards Russian soldiers and President Vladimir Putin. But while both platforms were already banned in the nation, Meta-owed WhatsApp has been allowed to continue operating.
Facebook and Instagram sent emails to content moderators earlier this month informing them that due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the social media sites were to allow posts that would normally violate their rules on violent speech, such as "death to the Russian invaders." It was also reported that calls for violence against Russian leaders such as Putin were allowed, but Meta later claimed this wasn't the case
Meta's actions led to a lawsuit filed by state prosecutors that sought to ban the company's activities on Russian territory, writes Reuters. It was upheld, though Russia had already blocked Facebook, Instagram, and many other sites after they took action against the country's state media.
☝️We demand that 🇺🇸 authorities stop the extremist activities of @Meta, take measures to bring the perpetrators to justice. Users of #Facebook & #Instagram did not give the owners of these platforms the right to determine the criteria of truth and pit nations against each other. https://t.co/1RkrjRmEtA pic.twitter.com/sTacSm4nDt— Russian Embassy in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) March 11, 2022
Other groups Russia has designated as extremist include the Taliban, Islamic State, and Jehovah's Witnesses.
The ruling means that Meta is banned from opening offices or doing business in Russia, writes TASS. Citizens accessing its products using a VPN, which have seen downloads skyrocket in the country, won't be accused of extremism, though they still face the consequences for violating the recent law that makes criticizing the invasion of Ukraine illegal.
Despite banning Facebook and Instagram, Russia has taken no such action against WhatsApp. Engadget notes this is partly due to the app's popularity; around 80% of Russians over the age of 14 use it, though Telegram has now surpassed WhatsApp as Russia's top communication service due to uncertainty over the latter's future.
"The decision does not apply to the activities of Meta's messenger WhatsApp, due to its lack of functionality for the public dissemination of information," the court said.
There were around 7.5 million Facebook users in Russia last year, while WhatsApp boasted 67 million, researcher Insider Intelligence estimates. Instagram has said its ban will affect approximately 80 million users in the country.