Ukraine-Russia crisis: Moscow battles Big Tech to control narrative

As Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities, another fight broke out online and over the airwaves.

Moscow intensified efforts to control the narrative running across news media and tech platforms, while large tech companies Facebook-Owner meta and alphabet Google Russia banned state-controlled media outlets in Ukraine and around the world.

On Friday, Russia said it would partially ban Facebook, a move Meta said after it rejected a government request to halt independent fact-checking of several Russian state media outlets. until Saturday, Twitter It also said that its service is being restricted to some Russian users.

According to users, after the slowdown was announced, images and videos were slow to load on Facebook, while Facebook Messenger There was a long period of no load. On mobile devices, Twitter has been slow — it has been the subject of a punitive slowdown since March. Several state websites, including the Kremlin site, have also suffered outages in recent days.

For tech companies, the stand-off is the latest step in an ongoing confrontation with Russia, where platforms risk government-imposed sanctions in the country as it seeks to censor dissidents while protecting state-run media.

Leading social, video and livestreaming platforms from Facebook TIC Toc And Twitch are coming under increasing pressure to combat lies on their platforms relating to the conflict, including the spread of misleading footage.

The escalation of Russia’s confrontation with big tech comes days ahead of a deadline set for Moscow’s major foreign tech companies to comply with a new law that requires them to establish official representation in the country, allowing It may be easier for the Kremlin to regulate the platforms. It follows a series of fines and slowdowns imposed on platforms that the Russian government said failed to remove illegal content.

Before the March deadline, an online listing by Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor showed only Apple, SpotifyAnd viber By 21:45 GMT (3:15am IST) on Sunday, all three requirements of the law were met. They are: registering an account with the regulator, giving users a way to communicate directly with the company, and setting up a representative office.

This month, Russia threatened to impose an advertising ban if companies did not comply. Russian officials have said the harsher sanctions could include speed reductions or outright blocks.

Big tech companies also face the burden of demands from Ukrainian authorities and sympathizers around the world, who have asked them to expel Russian users from their services in order to stop the spread of false information, while dissidents are forced to leave their services. Access to critical digital equipment is protected.

,Mark Zuckerberg, when you make the metaverse – Russia ruins real life in Ukraine! We ask you to ban access to @facebookapp and @instagram from Russia – until tanks and missiles attack our kindergartens and hospitals!” Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

In response to demands, META’s head of global affairs Nick Clegg tweeted on Sunday that the closure of Facebook and instagram In Russia “critical expression will be silenced at critical times.”

It was clear that others in the technical landscape were grappling with similar dilemmas. Just minutes after saying in a post on Sunday that Wire The messaging app will consider banning certain channels for spreading false information, said founder Pavel Durov, adding that the company will no longer do so after receiving feedback from users.


The activities of state-controlled media such as RT and Sputnik, which were hit with new EU sanctions on Sunday, have been a major source of conflict between Moscow and major tech platforms, as activists and politicians urged companies to monetise the Kremlin. Or had sought to ban- sponsored outlets.

Roskomnadzor has warned local media not to broadcast “false information” about Moscow’s military operation, banning the use of the words “invasion” and “assault” to describe its attack on Ukraine. Russian tech giant Yandex has also started warning Russian users searching for news about Ukraine on its search engine about unreliable information on the Internet.

Russia calls its actions a “special operation”, which it says is designed not to capture territory but to destroy Ukraine’s military capabilities and capture individuals seen as dangerous nationalists – Governments in Kyiv and Western powers say this is baseless propaganda. The media has long been a controversial presence on major social platforms, with some labeling those accounts in an effort to be more transparent about the source of the information.

Amid Russia’s invasion, Facebook, Twitter, Google and its video streaming service youtube The Russian state took new measures to prohibit the media from earning money from advertisements on their sites. Twitter, which banned ads from state-backed media in 2019, said it was blocking all ads in Russia and Ukraine to ensure the visibility of public safety information. Google, the world’s largest advertising vendor, also said it was not allowing Russian state media to sell ads using its tools.

Facebook and Google also said they had restricted access to some state media accounts in Ukraine at the request of the Ukrainian government. Google said on Sunday that it has banned downloads of RT’s mobile app in Ukraine in response to a government legal request.

As Western companies begin to heed new economic sanctions against Russia and pressure mounts to tackle online propaganda, experts say the fight between Russia and the most powerful tech companies could intensify.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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