As jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny is sentenced to another 9 years in maximum security, Moscow court finds Meta guilty of ‘extremist activity’
Facebook parent Meta Platforms has been found guilty by a Moscow court on Monday of “extremist activity.”
The court had earlier rejected Meta’s request to dismiss the Russian extremism charges against it, while the US firm questioned whether the court had the authority to ban its activities.
Meta’s lawyer told the court that Meta was not carrying out extremist activities and stood against Russophobia.
Earlier this month Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles major crimes, launched an investigation into Meta under the country’s extremism laws after the firm said it would allow calls for violence against the Russian military and President Vladimir Putin in some countries on Facebook and Instagram.
Meta later narrowed its stance to bar calls for the death of any head of state, such as Putin.
It said it was appropriate to temporarily allow certain forms of expression in light of Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine.
The social networking giant said calls for violence against Russian civilians continued to be banned and that the guidance to its content monitors should not be considered as condoning violence against Russians in general.
In response Roskomnadzor blocked access to Meta’s Instagram.
The “extremist” designation was initially used for groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State but was later applied to Jehova’s Witnesses and Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Navalny who is already in prison for two years over alleged parole violations, was today sentenced to a further 9 years in a maximum security penal colony after being found guilty of “large-scale fraud and contempt by a Russian court.”
But now Reuters has reported that Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court has ruled Monday that Meta is guilty of “extremist activity”, when it upheld a lawsuit filed by state prosecutors on banning the company’s activities on Russian territory.
It should be noted however that the ruling will focus on the already-banned Facebook and Instagram social networks, but will not affect its WhatsApp messenger platform.
“The decision does not apply to the activities of Meta’s messenger WhatsApp, due to its lack of functionality for the public dissemination of information,” the court was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Meta did not respond to requests for comment, and is not clear at the time of writing whether Meta will appeal the ruling.
The rulings will have an impact for ordinary Russians using these services.
Reuters, citing researcher Insider Intelligence estimates, reported that Facebook last year had 7.5 million users in Russia and WhatsApp had 67 million, while Instagram has 80 million users in Russia.
However analysis of mobile internet traffic on Monday showed that the messaging app Telegram, popular in Russia for a long time, has overtaken WhatsApp to become the country’s most used messaging tool in recent weeks.
That said internet traffic monitoring firms have reported that Russian users are flocking to download Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), as Russians seek tools to skirt Moscow’s online restrictions.