Russia followed through on its threat to block Meta-owned Instagram on Monday, cutting off access to tens of millions of users in the country.
Instagram is popular in Russia. It’s Meta’s second most popular app there according to data from Sensor Tower, behind ubiquitous messaging service WhatsApp. The app has been installed 166 million times across the Russian App Store and Google Play since 2014, making it three times as popular as Facebook.
After Russian censor Roskomnadzor announced that the government would restrict access to the app following a 48-hour “transition period,” Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri condemned Russia’s actions, which will affect 80 million people in the country.
“As you know, on March 11, Meta Platforms Inc. made an unprecedented decision by allowing the posting of information containing calls for violence against Russian citizens on its social networks Facebook and Instagram,” Roskomnadzor wrote in a blog post on Friday, accusing Meta of encouraging violence against Russians.
Last week, Reuters reported that Meta had quietly adjusted its content policies in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, allowing calls to violence against Russian soldiers from within the country.
Meta Global Affairs President Nick Clegg defended the policy shift, characterizing it as a temporary change designed to “[protect] people’s rights to speech as an expression of self-defense.”
“The fact is, if we applied our standard content policies without any adjustments we would now be removing content from ordinary Ukrainians expressing their resistance and fury at the invading military forces, which would rightly be viewed as unacceptable,” Clegg wrote.
While the Russian government’s restrictions on Instagram sound severe, savvy users will still be able to find ways to obscure their location using VPNs and Tor to access blocked Western social networks. Twitter launched its own censorship workaround last week in light of Russian restrictions, directing users to a dedicated Tor version of the social network.