Russia’s state media regulator, Roskomnadzor, announced Friday it will block access to the social media platform, just over a week after Russia first invaded Ukraine. The regulator claimed Facebook violated federal law by restricting access to the accounts of several state propaganda sites.
Asked about the agency’s decision during a press briefing on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the Biden administration is “deeply concerned” about Russia’s decision to cut off its citizens’ access to Facebook.
“This is part of their effort, as you know, to cut off a range of information from their public,” she said.
“There are concerning steps they have taken to crack down on any form of information being shared with their public; certainly Facebook is a part of that,” she added. “They’ve also threatened fines for journalists reporting on the ground … they’ve conveyed that there are only certain words their own Russian media can use at the risk of being fined or even jailed.”
Psaki called the censorship a “pattern” saying it is “not necessarily a new approach that they have taken.”
Roskomnadzor said it had recorded 26 cases of “discrimination against Russian media and information resources by Facebook” since October 2020.
“In recent days, the social network has restricted access to accounts: the Zvezda TV channel, the RIA Novosti news agency, Sputnik, Russia Today, the Lenta.ru and gazeta.ru,” the Russian regulator said, restrictions which the agency claimed are “prohibited by federal law.”
Nick Clegg, the vice president of global affairs for Facebook’s parent company, Meta, responded to the decision in a statement Friday: “Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out.”
“We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they remain available to people to safely and securely express themselves and organize for action,” Clegg said.
On the Russian government’s decision to block access to Facebook in the Russian Federation: pic.twitter.com/JlJwIu1t9K
— Nick Clegg (@nickclegg) March 4, 2022
The ban comes after the Russian regulator first placed partial restrictions on Facebook last week for the same alleged violation.
At the time of the partial restrictions, Clegg said Russian authorities had demanded that Facebook stop fact-checking and labeling content posted to the site by state-owned outlets, including RT and Sputnik. Meta declined to do so, according to Clegg.
Earlier this week, Meta also blocked access to RT, previously known as Russia Today, and Sputnik in the European Union.
Meanwhile, RT America, the network’s U.S. branch, is reportedly closing its operations after DirecTV dropped its channel and Roku nixed it from its television streaming platforms, CNN reported on Thursday.
Germany and the rest of the European Union banned RT, while Australia has suspended the channel and Canadian cable operators have dropped it. Britain is deciding whether to pull RT’s broadcast license in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sputnik is still operational in the U.S., but has a smaller reach than RT.