Putin takes his war to social media

About Fatu
By Fatu Ogwuche

Top of mind: It’s a weird time in the world. As we enjoy personal freedoms, Ukrainians and immigrants are dealing with the effects of a needless invasion by Russian forces.

This week, we’d focus on one big thing – spotlighting Putin’s crackdown on social media companies in Russia.

One Big Thing:

  • Putin shuts down big tech.

Putin’s war on social media

Russian President Vladimir Putin | Image credit: FT

The short: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin blocked access to social media networks to muzzle freedom of information.

Putin’s rampage: In addition to launching multiple missile strikes and air raids in Ukraine, Putin launched an offensive against Twitter and Facebook in the middle of his war on Ukraine. 

Timeline of internet shutdowns & big tech restrictions:

Putin v Twitter: On the third day of Ukraine’s invasion, internet monitoring group NetBlocks confirmed Russia blocked off access to Twitter to restrict access to information and curb anti-war protests from Russian citizens. The restrictions didn’t stop citizens from marching to the streets. 

Twitter had this to say:

We’re aware that Twitter is being restricted for some people in Russia and are working to keep our service safe and accessible.

We believe people should have free and open access to the Internet, which is particularly important during times of crisis.

In turn, Twitter paused ads in Russia and Ukraine to curb the spread of misinformation and abuse. 

Putin v Meta: Meta expanded its independent fact-checking program to Russian-owned media channels to debunk potential misinformation. Russia got mad and ordered Meta to desist. Meta refused. Russia restricted access to Meta’s services.

Nick Clegg, Meta’s President of Global Affairs, had something to say about it:

Yesterday, Russian authorities ordered us to stop the independent fact-checking and labelling of content posted on Facebook by four Russian state-owned media organizations. We refused. As a result, they have announced they will be restricting the use of our services.

Ordinary Russians are using our apps to express themselves and organize for action. We want them to continue to make their voices heard, share what’s happening, and organize through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.

YouTube & Google join the block party:  

Google blocked Russia’s state-owned media channel RT from monetizing on YouTube, then took things up a notch by announcing later that it banned Russian media outlets from using its ad technology to receive ad revenue from websites and apps. Russia hasn’t responded.

TikTok: Well, TikTok is China-owned… so crickets.

Might get worse: So far, Ukraine’s internet activity is active. However, analysts are concerned that Russia could seize telecoms infrastructure in Ukraine and force an internet blackout.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has garnered support globally through heartfelt moments on social media. Russia’s next move could throttle Zelenskyy’s access to the world. Hopefully, the upcoming talks in the Belarusian border creates a path to peace.

Final thoughts: Phew. Who would have thought we’d be coming out of a pandemic and witnessing a war in 2022? We’ve seen countless Ukrainian civilian and military casualties + immigrants facing racist abuse at the border. Internet shutdowns are a small part of this ongoing war, the loss of lives and trauma this inflicts on generations would last centuries.

In the words of Russian tennis player Andrey Rublev after reaching the finals of Dubai Championships this weekend – “no war please”.

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