Confirming the action started back in March, when Russia’s Court of Justice found Meta guilty of “extremist activities”, Russia officially puts the American company in the same league as ISIS and other terrorist organisations.
Initially, judges loyal to Kremlin power only upheld the ban on Facebook and Instagram, allowing WhatsApp, Russia’s most widely used instant messaging platform, to continue operating. The concession was reportedly made in order not to further fuel the discontent of a population already upset by the numerous loopholes and bans that have appeared virtually overnight.
It all started with Meta’s announcement that the distribution of messages inciting hatred and violence against the Russian army and President Putin was allowed. Although the owner of Facebook and Instagram confirmed that the change in its policy on hate speech is a temporary move that applies only to Ukraine in the context of the war unleashed by Russia, the reaction of the Kremlin power was self-victimizing and used to justify banning social media platforms that could not be censored by other means.
Many experts in Russia believe that the court’s decision not to ban WhatsApp was made because of its ubiquitous status among the population. The good news is that the “extremist” network WhatsApp has already ceased to be the most popular messaging platform in Russia, with users alarmed by the uncertainty left by the authorities migrating en masse to rival platform Telegram, whose app has racked up millions of additional installs.
Put on the list of extremist organisations, Meta can no longer open offices or participate in business activities in Russia, such as selling advertising to local clients. But Russian citizens will not be accused of extremism just for using any of Meta’s platforms or services (that is, if they can access them, if they are not already blocked through services provided by Roskomnadzor). Many Russians have already used VPN services to continue to access many of the Western-owned technology platforms.
At the moment, it is unclear whether, following the now reconfirmed decision, Russia will also ban WhatsApp, as it has already done with the Twitter platform, in an attempt to block the circulation of uncensored information or the organisation of possible protests or riots against the regime.