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Facebook, Google and Twitter limit ads over Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Meta, Facebook's parent company, says the decision to bar Russian state media from making money on its platform comes in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Tony Avelar
Meta, Facebook's parent company, says the decision to bar Russian state media from making money on its platform comes in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Updated February 27, 2022 at 7:18 AM ET

Facebook and YouTube are blocking Russian state media from running ads on their platforms, while Twitter is suspending all advertising in Ukraine and Russia, as pressure mounts on tech platforms to respond to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at Facebook, tweeted on Friday: "We are now prohibiting Russian state media from running ads or monetizing on our platform anywhere in the world."

On Saturday, Google-owned YouTube said it was also suspending several Russian state-media channels, including RT, from making money from ads. In addition, the online video platform is limiting recommendations to those channels and is blocking them entirely in Ukraine at the request of the Ukrainian government, according to a YouTube spokesperson.

Late on Saturday, Google said it was "pausing" the ability of Russian state-funded media to make money through Google's ad services as well.

"We're actively monitoring new developments and will take further steps if necessary," Google spokesman Michael Aciman said.

Twitter, which banned advertising from state-controlled media in 2019, also took action, saying on Friday it was temporarily pausing all ads in Ukraine and Russia "to ensure critical public safety information is elevated and ads don't detract from it."

Russian regulator accuses Facebook of censoring its state news outlets

The advertising suspensions come as U.S. tech companies are being squeezed by the Kremlin's ongoing effort to tighten its grip on communication and stifle dissent.

On Friday, Russia's communications regulator accused Facebook of censoring the official accounts of Zvezda, a TV channel run by the Russian defense ministry, the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency, and two news sites, Lenta.ru and Gazeta.ru. In retaliation for what the regulator described as violations of Russian law and human rights, it said it was limiting access to Facebook in the country.

In response to that claim, Meta's president of global affairs Nick Clegg said Russian authorities had ordered the company to stop labeling and fact-checking posts from four Russian state-owned media organizations.

"We refused. As a result, they have announced they will be restricting the use of our services," Clegg said in a statement. "Ordinary Russians are using our apps to express themselves and organize for action. We want them to continue to make their voices heard, share what's happening, and organize through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger."

It's not clear what the Kremlin's restrictions on the world's largest social network will entail or if they will also apply to Meta's other apps, including Instagram and WhatsApp. While Facebook does not disclose how many users it has in Russia, last year a poll found 9% of respondents said they used the social network, and 31% said they used Instagram.

On Saturday, Twitter saidthat it was "being restricted for some people in Russia" and that it was "working to keep our service safe and accessible."

Last year, Russia throttled access to Twitter after the company allegedly ignored requests to take down some posts and threatened similar action against Facebook and Google. In December, a Russian court fined Meta 2 billion rubles, or about $27 million, for failing to remove content that Russia says violates its laws.

Pressure mounts in U.S. for Silicon Valley to crack down on Russia

Silicon Valley companies are also facing pressure at home to limit the spread of misleading information and propaganda about the conflict and to take a tougher stance against Russia.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., this week sent letters to Meta, Twitter, Google parent Alphabet, TikTok, Reddit and Telegram urging them to protect their platforms from Russian influence operations.

"We can expect to see an escalation in Russia's use of both overt and covert means to sow confusion about the conflict and promote disinformation narratives that weaken the global response to these illegal acts," Warner wrote.

Meta has created a special operations center to monitor the conflict in Ukraine and remove content that breaks its rules. Twitter says it's "proactively reviewing" tweets to detect manipulation, identify false and misleading information, and protect high-profile accounts of journalists, activists, and government officials and agencies. Both companies have also posted tips for users to protect their accounts against hacking and secure their privacy.

YouTube says it has taken down hundreds of channels and thousands of videos in recent days for violating its policies, including rules against "coordinated deceptive practices."

Editor's note: Meta pays NPR to license NPR content.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: February 26, 2022 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story misattributed a statement accusing Facebook of violating Russian law to Nick Clegg. The statement was from the Russian communications regulator.
Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.
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