Russia has officially blocked Facebook and restricted Twitter. This is a bad sign for global democracy.

After a week Threats and half measuresThe Russian government has officially blocked Facebook and continues to restrict Twitter from the tens of millions of users in the country who use the apps every day.

The move comes at a time when the Russian government, unsurprisingly, is stepping up its crackdown on the free press and other sources of information in order to change the narrative of its invasion of Ukraine (which Russian media are not allowed to label as a war, but as A “Military Special Operations“). In recent weeks, the few remaining independent local news outlets in Russia are not pro-government were turned offRussian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law that threatens up to 15 years in prison for Russians publishing “fake news” about the invasion, and the government has already done so arrested thousands of anti-war protesters.

Now Facebook and Twitter — which Russians have used to air dissent and share independent news about the brutality of the war — are the latest targets of Putin’s media crackdown. While Facebook and Twitter have complicated track records and are sometimes used by bad actors (even the Russian government itself) to do so intervene in democracyPutin’s shutdown of these apps will no doubt have a chilling effect on political speech in Russia.

Russians can still find other news sources, watch YouTube and communicate through apps like Telegram – one of the most popular social media apps in Russia – but the government is stifling the discussion on two major platforms where it is easy to reach large audiences and where people in Russia can share with the rest of the world. It’s unclear if the government lockdowns will extend to other apps owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta, like WhatsApp and Instagram.

“Censorship is too modest a word for what they’re doing right now,” said UC Irvine law professor and former UN Special Rapporteur on Free Speech David Kaye.

Meanwhile, Russia’s communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, has blamed Facebook to be the one doing the censorship by saying in a statement released on Friday that the social media company “discriminates against Russian media and information sources.” Over the past week, Facebook has started fact-checking what are allegedly misleading claims published by Russia Today (RT) and other state-run media in Russia, and it is RT blocked in Europe and UK.

Facebook’s President for Global Affairs Nick Clegg said earlier that the Russian government is trying to prevent Facebook from implementing its independent fact-checking efforts, and on Friday posted a statement on his Twitter account in response to the Kremlin’s shutdown of Facebook.

“Soon millions of ordinary Russians will be cut off from reliable information, deprived of their day-to-day opportunities to connect with family and friends, and barred from speaking out,” Clegg tweeted. “We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they continue to be available for people to express themselves and take action safely and securely.”

Twitter has previously said its services are limited in Russia but not blocked entirely. “We recognize that Twitter is restricted for some people in Russia and are working to keep our service safe and accessible,” the company said on Twitter account tweeted on February 26th.

While many policy pundits believe these crackdowns will help the Russian government tighten its grip, in a twist that may surprise some, Ukrainian heads of government had recently pushed for it Facebook and Twitter block access to their apps in Russia. That’s because the Ukrainian government saw it as a kind of “sanction” against the Russian government, hoping that the action would prompt the Russians to pressure the government to act differently.

“There is this strange irony that Ukraine required companies to take steps to be unavailable in Russia, and now Russia has done that for them. And I think it’s a bad result,” Kaye said. He added that he understands Ukrainian concerns that social media platforms are being used to spread pro-Russian propaganda and a desire to punish their government.

Social media platforms – Facebook in particular – have been criticized for being places where anti-democratic and even genocide Movements can thrive, fueled by unverified misinformation and calls for violence that social media companies have failed to adequately moderate. But it’s complicated. These platforms are also useful tools for freedom of expression, especially in places like Russia where independent media is scarce and social media fills in the gaps created by state filters. While the abolition of Facebook and Twitter won’t stop political dissent in Russia overnight (for now, Russians can use other apps like Telegram to communicate) — this appears to be just the beginning of Putin’s crackdown. It is also likely to inspire other authoritarian regimes considering similar moves.

Even if social media platforms are banned in a country, there are always workarounds to circumvent restrictions such as: B. the use of virtual private networks or VPNs. But that can make organizing inaccessible to many who don’t have the financial or technical skills or political inclination to do so.

“Ordinary Russians rush to install VPNs, but that only applies to the liberal section of society — the rest is left in the dark,” said Russian investigative journalist Andrei soldatov, senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis. “Global platforms should do whatever it takes to stay available.” Russia has officially blocked Facebook and restricted Twitter. This is a bad sign for global democracy.

Fry Electronics Team

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