Tech

In unprecedented move, Facebook demotes Russian state media across its platforms, worldwide

Business Insider US

Ukrainian Military Forces servicemen block a road in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 24, 2022.
Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images
  • Facebook is restricting all content coming from Russian state-owned media across the globe.
  • The move is unprecedented for Facebook, which on Monday demoted state-owned outlets like RT and Sputnik only in Europe.
  • Many sites promoting Russian propaganda have migrated to Telegram, another messaging platform.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Facebook said on Tuesday it would restrict all Russian state-owned media across its platforms amid the country's invasion of Ukraine and ongoing propaganda campaign. This move, announced by the company's president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, demotes state-owned outlets, like Russia Today and Sputnik, in Facebook's News Feed, in addition to all posts that link to media outlets controlled by Russia.

On Monday, Facebook restricted access to these Russia-controlled media across the European Union. Tuesday's decision applies those restriction globally. Instagram, which shares a parent company with Facebook, is also in the process of blocking pages associated with state-run media in Russia, Clegg said.

The decision to demote all content associated with a government appears a first for Facebook, which changed its corporate name to Meta last year. Katie Harbarth, a former policy director for the company, told The Verge the move is "unprecedented in terms of doing that to an official state media outlet, at least to my knowledge." She noted that Facebook had blocked or taken down individual sites peddling political disinformation in the past, but said the company had never done anything as broad as what it's doing against Russian state-owned media. 

The move also comes about a week after the Russian government started limiting access to Facebook and Instagram within Russia, a process known as throttling. In a statement at the time, Roskomnadzor, Russia's tech and communications regulator, accused Facebook of "censorship," after the platform took down disinformation about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

State-owned media escalated its accusations against Facebook after the demotion. In a post to Telegram on Monday, RT wrote that its pages on Facebook and Instagram were being so limited as to be a "near total wipeout across Europe" and accused the company of "bending" to European pressure and questioning whether "Big Tech free speech has ended once and for all."

As state-run media is deplatformed, many of those sites and others have migrated to Telegram. Logically, a UK-based disinformation tracker, said there are now 187 Russian-language channels on the platform with a total of 5 million followers. That number grew 60% over the last week and started to surge "right around the time platform actions started to be taken," Kristina Gildejeva, a disinformation analyst at Logically, said. She also noted that, while there is plenty of verified and reliable news on Telegram, many of the pages covering the invasion "are overtly pushing Russian propaganda." 

False information and intentional disinformation about the invasion have been widespread since Russia invaded Ukraine last week, though Facebook announced it had taken down a propaganda network over the weekend. Facebook and Twitter also quickly recommended that anyone using their platforms in Ukraine should consider simply closing their accounts, alluding to hacking and manipulation threats. The Russian government has a well-known history of using social media to manipulate political events through the use of bots and by taking over accounts.

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