Ukraine war: Russia strangles social platforms as Big Tech bans state media RT and Sputnik

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Google has removed Russian media-connected mobile apps RT and Sputnik from its Play Store, in line with an earlier move to remove state-funded publishers from its news-related features, the company said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the Alphabet-owned company said it had removed Russian state media content from its news-related products, including the Google News search tool.

Earlier this week, Meta, YouTube and TikTok blocked Russian state media RT and Sputnik in Europe, the companies said.

The action means that Facebook pages and Instagram accounts owned by RT and Sputnik will no longer be accessible from the European Union, Facebook’s parent company Meta said on Monday.

Big Tech’s action against Russia has drawn criticism from the Kremlin, with a Russian Foreign Ministry official calling the companies “foreign instigators of war”.

Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor has also pushed back on restrictions imposed by social media platforms. On Tuesday, he throttled Twitter in Russia, slowing the service’s loading speed in retaliation for what he said was Twitter’s failure to remove fake posts about Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine.

“We have received requests from a number of governments and the EU to take further action regarding Russian state-controlled media,” said Meta’s vice president of global affairs. Nick Clegg said on Twitter.

“Given the exceptional nature of the current situation, we will restrict access to RT and Sputnik across the EU for the time being,” he added.

Tuesday, Google announced it would also crack down on RT and Sputnik, restricting access to their YouTube channels “across Europe”.

“Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, we are blocking YouTube channels connected to RT and Sputnik across Europe, with immediate effect. It will take time for our systems to be fully operational. Our teams continue to monitor the situation. around the clock to take prompt action,” the company said.

On Monday, TikTok confirmed to The Washington Post that it has also restricted access to RT and Sputnik accounts.

“Ban the Kremlin media machine”

Social media companies have already been forced to adapt their platforms to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Announcements from social media platforms follow comments by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday, where she outlined the aims of EU sanctions against Russia and ally Belarus.

“We are going to ban the Kremlin media machine in the EU,” von der Leyen said.

“The state corporation [RT] and Sputnik, and their affiliates, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war. We are developing tools to ban their toxic and harmful misinformation in Europe,” she said.

Euronews Next asked Google if it had taken action following pressure from governments and the EU, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

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