Facebook and Twitter on Friday were blocked in Russia, amid President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing military invasion of Ukraine.
In a statement issued on Friday, Roskomnadzor, the country’s communications regulator, explained the decision was made to “block access to the Facebook network” after at least 26 cases of “discrimination against Russian media and information resources” since October 2020. The agency highlighted Facebook’s recent restriction of Kremlin-tied media sources RT and Sputnik across the EU.
“Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out,” Nick Clegg, president of global affairs for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, wrote on Twitter in response. “We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they remain available to people to safely and securely express themselves and organize for action.”
Hours later, Russian news agency Interfax reported that Roskomnadzor had also begun blocking Twitter. Despite the reports, the Twitter spokesperson said the company doesn’t see “anything significantly different” than throttling that had been reported earlier.
The blocks would escalate earlier restrictions on Facebook and Twitter by the Kremlin. Last week, Clegg said Russia had restricted use of the company’s services. The throttling was in response to Meta’s refusal to stop independent fact-checking of Russian state-backed media. Clegg in turn said Meta would keep its apps, including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, available to Russians.
The Russian government also began throttling Twitter last week, and data from global internet monitor NetBlocks revealed the platform was being restricted across a handful of Russian telecommunications service providers. At the time, Twitter said it was aware of the restriction and said it was “working to keep [its] service safe and accessible.”
However, data from GlobalCheck, a service that tracks internet censorship in countries like Russia and Belarus, showed that Russia was throttling Facebook. User connections to Facebook in Russia bottomed out at 25% that day, the most throttled the platform had been since the start of the invasion last month.
“This is the exact ambiguity that throttling and partial restrictions aim to create,” NetBlocks told BuzzFeed News on Thursday. “There’s no clear point at which the slowing of a website or social media platform renders it unusable. And in this regard, the act of throttling becomes an information warfare tool in and of itself.”
Russia’s government has recently relied on throttling as a way to censor internet platforms. Last year, Roskomnadzor debuted a novel technique that effectively restricted access to Twitter during anti-Putin protests. Prior to that, Roskomnadzor announced that it had slowed Twitter speeds because it claimed the service company failed to remove content related to child pornography, drugs, and suicide. At the time, research group Censored Planet called this “the first known centrally controlled attempt by the Russian government to use throttling (instead of outright blocking).”
As Russia continues its invasion, Silicon Valley companies have been caught in the middle. Facebook and Twitter said they took down two anti-Ukrainian disinformation campaigns over the weekend. Meta, TikTok, and YouTube, owned by Google, have also banned Kremlin-backed RT and Sputnik outlets from their platforms in Europe. Reddit has banned users from posting links to Russian state-owned media. Apple and Google have also removed RT from their app stores outside of Russia.