Facebook to Restrict Some Russian State-Controlled Media Across the EU

The social network says it will limit access to RT and Sputnik across the EU "given the exceptional nature of the current situation."

Facebook's parent company Meta said Monday it will limit access to Russian state-controlled media outlets RT and Sputnik across the European Union, a move that will likely heighten tensions between the world's largest social network and the Russian government.

"We have received requests from a number of governments and the EU to take further steps in relation to Russian state-controlled media. Given the exceptional nature of the current situation, we will be restricting access to RT and Sputnik across the EU at this time," Nick Clegg, who oversees global affairs at Meta and is the former UK deputy prime minister, said in a tweet.

Clegg didn't immediately respond to questions on Twitter about what the restrictions entail, how many requests Meta has received and from which governments or how many Facebook users will be impacted by these restrictions. Clegg also doesn't say when these restrictions will start. RT's Facebook page has 7.4 million followers and Sputnik's Facebook page has 1.4 million followers. The media outlets are also on Facebook-owned Instagram, a photo and video service. RT has 839,000 followers on Instagram and Sputnik has 116,000 followers. 

RT and Sputnik didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. The EU is an economic and political union of 27 countries, including France, Germany and Spain.

The move comes a day after Meta announced it had restricted access to several accounts, including from Russian state-controlled media, in Ukraine after a request from the government there. Meta has been facing more pressure to crack down on these media outlets for spreading propaganda and false claims after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. On Sunday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet the EU's executive branch is developing tools to ban "toxic and harmful disinformation" published by RT and Sputnik and their subsidiaries. 

The rare move by Meta also raises questions about whether Russia will further restrict access to Facebook and Instagram. Ukrainians have also put pressure on Facebook to remove access to the main social network and Instagram in Russia, but Clegg said Sunday those platforms are also being used by protesters and as a source of independent information. "The Russian Government is already throttling our platform to prevent these activities. We believe turning off our services would silence important expression at a crucial time," Clegg said in a tweet on Sunday.

Russia said last week it's partly restricting access to Facebook after the social network refused to stop fact-checking and label content posted on Facebook by four Russian state-owned media organizations. Russia's telecommunications regulator, Roskomnadzor, alleges Facebook violated "fundamental human rights" by restricting the country's state-controlled media.

Facebook has been labeling state-controlled media publishers and barring ads from Russia state media. On Sunday, Meta also announced it removed a network of about 40 fake accounts, Pages and Groups on Facebook and Instagram from Russia and Ukraine. Meta said some of these accounts pretended to be news editors and ran fake news websites and published stories that included "claims about the West betraying Ukraine and Ukraine being a failed state." Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, created a special operations center with experts who speak Ukrainian and Russian to help monitor its platform.

RT and Sputnik are on other social media sites, including Twitter and TikTok. A spokeswoman for TikTok said users in the EU won't see content from RT and Sputnik's accounts. Twitter started labeling state-affiliated media, but a spokeswoman said the company had "nothing to share at this time" when asked if the company was also planning to restrict RT and Sputnik. 

First published on Feb. 28, 2022 at 1:28 p.m. PT.
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