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Russia threatens Instagram ban in response to Meta allowing violent threats against soldiers

Russia threatens Instagram ban in response to Meta allowing violent threats against soldiers


Meta softened its moderation rules to allow threats

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Update March 11th, 12:34PM ET: Russia’s communications agency Roskmnadzor announced it will ban Instagram on March 14th.

Russian officials have called on Instagram to be banned and for parent company Meta to be designated an “extremist organization,” according to Russian news agency Interfax and state-owned news agency TASS.

As reported by Interfax, Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office says it has filed a petition “to recognize Meta Platforms Inc. as an extremist organization and ban its activities on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

Separately, TASS reports that the head of the Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, Alexander Khinshtein, has called on Instagram to be banned if reports that Meta adjusted its moderation policies to allow users to call for violence against Russian soldiers are true. State communications agency Roskomnadzor also issued a statement asking Meta “as soon as possible to confirm or refute” the reports.

Facebook’s moderation policies now have geopolitical consequences

“If Meta confirms this fact or declines to comment, that will be a reason for Roscomnadzor [sic] and other colleagues to take the toughest measures,” Khinshtein told TASS. “My opinion is that the work of Instagram in Russia in this case should be blocked, like what’s happened to Facebook.”

The policy changes in question were first reported by Reuters and have since been confirmed by Meta. Reuters shared internal emails sent to Facebook and Instagram moderators, telling them to “allow T1 violent speech that would otherwise be removed under the Hate Speech policy when: (a) targeting Russian soldiers, EXCEPT prisoners of war, or (b) targeting Russians where it’s clear that the context is the Russian invasion of Ukraine (e.g., content mentions the invasion, self-defense, etc.).”

The changes apply to users in Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, according to The New York Times.

A spokesperson for Meta, Andy Stone, confirmed to The Verge that the company had made changes to its policies on violent speech. “As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders,’” said Stone. “We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”

Although Facebook has already been blocked in Russia, Instagram has so far escaped censure.