Tech giants crack down on Russian state-related news

SAN FRANCISCO — Tech companies from Facebook to TikTok and Microsoft moved Monday (February 28) to limit the reach of Russian state-linked media outlets, which are accused of spreading misinformation about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Social media platforms have become one front of the internationally condemned attack, harboring at times false narratives but also real-time monitoring of a conflict that marks Europe’s biggest geopolitical crisis in decades.

Facebook’s parent company Meta said it would restrict access in the European Union to RT and Sputnik, which Western countries have accused of being mouthpieces for the Kremlin and serving as a platform for plead for war.

The social media giant’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, cited the “exceptional nature of the current situation” when announcing the decision but gave no details.

Hours earlier, Twitter said it would put warnings on tweets sharing links to Russian state-affiliated media.

Twitter’s site integrity manager, Yoel Roth, wrote that the platform saw more than 45,000 tweets a day that share links to outlets.

“Our product should make it easy to understand who is behind the content you see, and what their motivations and intentions are,” he added.

In addition to adding tags that identify link sources, Roth said the platform is “also taking steps to significantly reduce the circulation of this content on Twitter.”

Twitter and Facebook have both been hit with access restrictions in Russia since the invasion of Ukraine and are now “largely unusable”, web monitoring group NetBlocks said.

Video-sharing app TikTok told AFP it had restricted access to Russian state-owned media on its platform in the EU, while Microsoft said it was removing RT from its app store and would change the algorithm of its Bing search engine to move content from RT and Sputnik down. results.

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether they would take a similar course.

Netflix, which was to carry Russian state TV channels, said that “given the current situation, we have no plans to add these channels to our service.”

“MISINFORMATION FREQUENTLY SPREAD”

The European Union had already announced a broadcast ban on the two outlets in member states on Sunday, with bloc leader Ursula von der Leyen saying they “can no longer spread their lies to justify (President Vladimir) Putin’s war.” .

A report by Sputnik hit back at moves to restrict its access to social media, saying “the unprecedented bans are a clear attack on free speech, but you can still follow Sputnik on Telegram”.

The US State Department, in a January report, said the media likens itself to independent public outlets like the BBC, but in fact “serves primarily as conduits for Kremlin talking points.” .

“RT and Sputnik are not transparent, and their overall goals appear to be fundamentally different from those of independent media…the Russian government is closely involved,” the report said.

“Media reports and programming openly support Kremlin positions and policies, and both frequently spread misinformation,” he added.

The outlets are Russia’s main media outlets for non-Russian speakers, with RT offering a global network of channels, websites and social media accounts publishing content in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, German and Russian.

News of the restrictions from RT and Sputnik came the day after Meta said pro-Russian groups were mounting disinformation campaigns on social media, using fake profiles or hacked accounts to portray Ukraine as a weak pawn of Western duplicity.

The tech giant’s cybersecurity team – also a parent of Instagram – said it blocked a set of fake Russian-linked accounts that were part of a social media scheme aimed at undermining Ukraine. AFP