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Russian authorities called for Facebook parent Meta to be labeled an extremist organization and said they would restrict access to its Instagram app, after the social media giant said it would temporarily permit some calls for violence against Russian soldiers.
Russian regulators have already banned access to Facebook in the country. Now, Russia’s prosecutor general’s office is seeking the extremist designation because of what it terms “illegal calls for the murder of Russian nationals” by Meta employees.
In launching their criminal probe, prosecutors also accused Instagram of serving as a platform for organizing “riots, accompanied by violence.”
Communications regulator Roskomnadzor said that access to Instagram would be restricted beginning on Monday in Russia. It said “messages shared on Instagram encourage and provoke violent actions toward Russians.”
WhatsApp, a Meta messaging app popular in Russia, was not mentioned in the government statements. Meta did not have a comment on the criminal case or restrictions on Friday.
In recent years, Russian authorities have expanded the extremist designation beyond widely viewed terrorist groups like al-Qaeda to include the political movement of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The prosecutor general’s case comes after Meta made an unusual exception on Thursday to its rules prohibiting most overtly violent speech. The company said it would permit posts calling for violence against Russian soldiers from users in Ukraine, Russia and some other countries in eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
Facebook users in Russia, Ukraine and Poland are also temporarily allowed to call for the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Facebook will still remove calls for violence against Russian civilians, the company said.
“In light of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, we made a temporary exception for those affected by war, to express violent sentiments toward invading armed forces such as ‘death to the Russian invaders’,” Meta said in a statement on Thursday. “These are temporary measures designed to preserve voice and expression for people who are facing invasion. As always, we are prohibiting calls for violence against Russians outside of the narrow context of the current invasion.”
The policy changes were first reported by Reuters under a headline that said the company would allow “calls for violence against Russians,” raising broad alarm on social media. The news outlet later changed its headline to clarify that it applied to threats against “Russian invaders”.
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