The Suppression of Media: Russia strikes again

A Facebook icon for a like on Facebook.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Gemma Fink, Mentorship Coordinator

Amid the chaos inflicted by Vladimir Putin’s war with Ukraine, Russia has taken action against Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of three widely-used social media staples—Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp. In doing so, the country has violated the fundamental principles of free press—a right that is protected by the Constitution of Russia. As stated in Article 29 of the country’s constitution, the freedom of mass media shall be guaranteed, and censorship shall be prohibited.

In mid-March, a court in Moscow officially designated Meta as an extremist organisation. This action was spurred by the company’s decision to relax restrictions on negative posts aimed towards Russian soldiers, as well as the war in general. The designation resulted in nationwide bans placed on both Instagram and Facebook, but excluded Whatsapp on the grounds that the platform is a means of communication rather than a source of information. 

With the designation of Meta as an extremist group under a Russian anti-extremism law, the company joins the ranks of the Taliban, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and various other organisations who have faced designations on similar grounds. 

The Russian population is no stranger to the world of censorship and the manipulation of media, even despite its blatant infringement of citizens’ rights as constitutionally guaranteed. Yet it is arguable that the recent banning of social media platforms is especially egregious given the country’s current situation. The new restrictions could very easily lead to decreased interconnectedness between Russian citizens, thus greatly impacting the spread of both information and misinformation.

Alex Stevenson, who assists in the management of Lake Forest Academy’s social media presence, comments on the ban’s impact on the Russian population by highlighting how it may serve as a short-term benefit in “cutting off the misinformation spigot.” He elaborates on this idea by saying “In some ways, I can’t quite believe that people actually get their news from social media.”

The unremitting evolution of technology throughout recent history has profoundly shifted the way in which populations across the globe receive, consume, and interpret media—most notably in relation to current events. Alongside the invention and continuing development of social media platforms marches the journalism industry and its wavering integrity. 

Regardless of its intended purpose as stated by Russian legislature, the ban on Facebook and Instagram has not eliminated the spread of misinformation throughout the country in any capacity. Driven by a lack of access to the wide range of information offered by social media, citizens are forced to turn to government-controlled media, which is essentially a playground for Putin’s propaganda.

The decision to ban Facebook and Instagram is far more complex than it seems—in part, it is another way for Putin to display the extent of his power. Following his initial attack on Ukraine, the leader has sought to increase censorship throughout the country in an attempt to control the spread of information among citizens. As Stevenson comments, “It almost feels like a front.”

Ultimately, the banning of Facebook and Instagram in Russia will be immortalised as yet another volume in the series of media suppression that the country continues to enforce. Russia’s decision is driven by a storied desire that has marked countless nations and empires whose rule has sprung from the very soil we tread upon today—the desire to control public narrative.