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Russian Media Watchdog Blocks Facebook After Limiting Access To Multiple Other Sites

By RFE/RL's Russian Service, Current Time March 04, 2022

Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor has blocked Facebook, the world's largest social-media platform by number of users, in the latest broadside against freedom of information in the country as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative about its war in Ukraine.

"This is part of their effort...to cut off a range of information from their public," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on March 4, referring to the cutoff of Facebook. "We are deeply concerned about this and concerned about the threat on freedom of speech in the country."

Russian citizens confirmed to RFE/RL that they were experiencing problems with Facebook access.

Roskomnadzar based its decision on claims that Facebook was discriminating against Russian media and information resources such as RT, RIA Novosti, and Sputnik.

Roskomnadzor said the decision blocked Facebook in Russia and that there had been "26 instances of discrimination toward Russian media" by Facebook since October 2020.

Roskomnadzor said earlier that it had "limited" access to independent media websites as the authorities stepped up an apparent effort to prevent Russian speakers from getting access to outside information amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Multiple RFE/RL websites and the Russian sites of the BBC and Deutsche Welle, along with Facebook, Twitter, and Apple and Google's app stores were all blocked overnight on March 3-4, according to monitoring group GlobalCheck and other indicators.

Roskomnadzor said later on March 4 that it had "restricted access" to Twitter. Access was restricted on the basis of a request by the Prosecutor-General's Office from February 24, according to the Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies.

Facebook and Twitter have circulated videos of the Kremlin's war on Ukraine that contradict the official narrative of a successful "special operation." The videos include captured and killed Russian soldiers and destroyed Ukrainian cities.

Some of the sites sites were still available to Rostelecom subscribers, GlobalCheck said.

The blockages are preventing Russian access to the Russian Service of RFE/RL.

RFE/RL's regional Russian-language North.Realities and Siberia.Realities sites, the websites of the Tatar-Bashkir service, Azatliq.org and Idelreal.org, and the Caucasus.Realities site run by its North Caucasus Service, are also blocked in Russia.

The website of Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, has been blocked by Russian authorities since February 28, although the service has published methods to bypass the block.

"Putin is feeding Russians a steady diet of lies about the scope and costs of the war in Ukraine," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said on March 4. "RFE/RL refuses to censor our content at this critical moment for our Russian audiences. They deserve the truth and we will continue to provide them with factual information about their government's actions and the consequences that they must now endure."

Journalists at the Latvian-based Russian- and English-language news outlet Meduza also said that "everything looks like Meduza's site is blocked in Russia," adding: "These times will pass. We continue our work."

The editorial offices of RFE/RL's Russian Service received six notifications from Roskomnadzor late on March 2 in which the Russian media-monitoring agency threatened to block the service's website amid ongoing coverage of the conflict in Ukraine.

The service reported that Roskomnadzor said it would use its powers to block news on Svoboda.org about the shelling of Kharkiv, in Ukraine, as well as the hacking of some Russian websites by cyber-actors sympathetic to Ukraine and material about social media reactions to the hostilities.

The media regulator said the materials "delivered deliberately false socially significant information about Russia's alleged attack on the territory of Ukraine" in ways that could "create panic among people."

The regulator's move to block Facebook, which has more than 2.9 billion monthly active users globally, including tens of million in Russia, further isolates the country from the rest of the world.

Western governments have largely cut Russia off from their financial systems since its invasion of Ukraine, while dozens of Western firms have announced they are withdrawing from the country.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-rferl-bbc-facebook- google-twitter-blocked/31735597.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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