Empty threat? Court in Moscow orders arrest in absentia of Meta spokesman Andy Stone, over terrorism-related charges
Russia continues to target Meta Platforms, after ramping up the legal action against its communications spokesman Andy Stone.
Reuters reported that on Monday a court in Moscow ordered the arrest in absentia of Meta’s Andy Stone for two months, pending trial on a number of terrorism-related counts.
Russia’s interior ministry had opened a criminal investigation into Stone late last year, without disclosing specific charges against him.
It comes after Russia in November 2023 had placed Andy Stone on its ‘wanted’ list, as the Putin regime continued to try land a blow against Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta Platforms.
Reuters reported that Meta did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment, while Stone also reportedly declined to comment.
Moscow’s Basmanny District Court on Monday claimed that Stone had been charged with the “promotion of terrorist activities, public calls for terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism, and public calls for extremist activities.”
The court also said Stone was put on wanted lists both in Russia and internationally.
Tensions escalated between the Putin regime and mostly American-based tech platforms in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Russia was widely condemned for its unprovoked invasion, and crippling sanctions were soon applied, and big name tech firms began withdrawing from the country.
In early March 2022 Russia opened a criminal case against Meta, after the social networking giant said it would temporarily allow some “calls for violence” on Facebook and Instagram, in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
This included calls for violence against Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as Russian soldiers invading the country.
Meta’s policy move came after multiple reports emerged at the time of war crimes committed by the Russian military – stoking global public anger against Russia and President Putin.
After that policy change by Meta, Russia banned Instagram as well, which had very popular with Russian citizens.
It should be remembered that Russia’s communications regulator (Roskomnadzor) had already blocked Facebook, after Meta had restricted access to Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik in the European Union.
A week after its policy change, Meta subsequently banned calls for death for heads of state, but it said at the time it would still allow other ‘calls for violence’.
In October 2022 Meta Platforms was declared a terrorist organisation by the Russian regime.
That designation meant that it was now a criminal offence for Russian citizens to access Instagram or Facebook, even via a virtual private network (VPN), demand for which skyrocketed as Russian citizens sought to bypass Moscow’s censorship measures.
It also opened the way for possible criminal proceedings against any Russian residents using Meta’s Facebook or Instagram.
A court in Moscow has previously rejected a request by Meta Platforms to dismiss extremism charges against it, and in April 2022, Russia also formally barred Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg from entering the country.
Meanwhile western social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and X (aka Twitter) had been popular with young Russians before the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, but have since been blocked in the country as part Moscow’s propaganda efforts. They are now only accessible via VPN.
WhatsApp, which had been the country’s most popular messaging platform, was blocked in Russia in March 2023, alongside Snapchat, Discord, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, and Telegram.
In October 2023 a Russian senator for the ruling United Russia party was quoted as saying that that Roskomnadzor had plans to block Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) from 1 March 2024.