There are increasing signs within Russia that not all of its citizens are not following Moscow’s edicts amid the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.

Reuters reported that data from monitoring firm Top10VPN showed demand from Russian Internet users for tools to skirt Moscow’s online restrictions have skyrocketed.

It comes Russia opened a criminal case against Meta last week, 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.

Global anger

It comes amid multiple reports of war crimes by the Russian military inside Ukraine – stoking public anger around the world against Russia and President Putin.

Meta’s decision would therefore allow social media users in Ukraine to post messages such as
“Death to the Russian invaders.”

After last week’s policy change by Meta, Russia last Friday banned Instagram in a move that took effect at midnight on Sunday.

It should be remembered that the country’s communications regulator (Roskomnadzor) was already blocking Facebook after the platform restricted access to Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik in the European Union.

So far Meta’s WhatsApp, the country’s most popular messaging platform, has not been blocked in Russia.

It should be noted that Meta has subsequently banned calls for death for heads of state, but it will still allow other ‘calls for violence’.

Roskomnadzor has also introduced other censorship measures, including a bill that President Vladimir Putin signed into law last week.

That law made it impossible for news organisations to accurately report the news in or from Russia.

The Russian ‘fake news’ law forced major news organisations such as BBC and CNN to stop broadcasting from the country. This is because calling the Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine an invasion can earn a person 15 years in prison.

VPN demand

Now on Tuesday Reuters, citing data from Top10VPN, reported that on the eve of the Instagram ban, demand for Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that encrypt data and obscure where a user is located spiked 2,088 percent higher than the daily average demand in mid-February.

“VPN demand was resurgent in Russia going into the weekend of March 12-13 as the Russian authorities banned Instagram in retaliation for parent company Meta permitting calls to violence against the Russian military to remain on its platforms,” said the monitoring firm.

“The official ban on Facebook and Twitter on March 4 had previously stoked demand for VPN services, pushing it over 1,000% higher than the baseline for two consecutive days,” it added.

“Our analysis of Russia’s central register of blocked sites shows that the Kremlin has blocked over 300 sites relating to the war since the invasion, including BBC News, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America Russian-language sites,” it said.

The Russian government passed a regulation in 2017 that banned the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), but this has not stopped Russian users from downloading them.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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