The Kremlin has begun blocking access to Twitter, hours after the social media company stopped Russians from advertising on the platform.
The decision to block access to Twitter followed Russia’s move hours earlier to restrict access to Facebook in the country as the government seeks to control the narrative around its invasion of Ukraine.
The Twitter block was first reported Saturday morning by NetBlocks, a digital advocacy group that tracks internet outages across the globe.
“Network data show that access to the Twitter platform and back-end servers are restricted on leading networks including Rostelecom, MTS, Beeline, and MegaFon as of 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning,” the company wrote on its website.
Alp Toker, the director of NetBlocks, told VICE News that the decision to restrict access to the Twitter platform was to be expected, but that the social media company’s decision to stop the ability to advertise on its platform was the trigger that forced the Kremlin to act.
“Although it's been a long time coming, this tit-for-tat seems to have pushed it over [the edge],” Toker said, adding that while the restrictions can be circumvented with virtual private networks (VPNs), most regular users won’t be able to access these services.
“The restrictions are targeted so circumvention remains possible through the use of VPN services,” Toker said. “However, for casual and non-technical users this will offer little respite.”
There were about 9 million Twitter users in Russia in January 2021, according to Statista.
The company did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment about the government blocking access to its platform, but it posted the following statement on Friday night.
“We’re temporarily pausing advertisements in Ukraine and Russia to ensure critical public safety information is elevated and ads don’t detract from it.”
On Friday, Roskomnadzor, the government body that regulates telecommunications and the internet in Russia accused Facebook of being involved in violations of the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens.
Later, Facebook spokesperson Nick Clegg tweeted that the Russian government ordered the company to stop fact-checking Russian state-owned media organizations on its platform.
“We refused,” he added. “Ordinary Russians are using our apps to express themselves and organize for actions. We want them to continue to make their voices heard, share what’s happening and organize.”
The statement from Roskomnadzor didn’t make clear what exactly the restrictions would look like, but on Saturday morning some social media users began complaining that Facebook’s messaging app Messenger was no longer working.
Toker confirmed to VICE News that Messenger was facing similar restrictions.
The Kremlin is pursuing a two-pronged approach to controlling the narrative around the Ukraine invasion. While at home it’s seeking to stop citizens from accessing information outside state-run platforms on social media, in Ukraine it appears to be trying to cut off internet access entirely.
On Saturday morning, there was a significant disruption to Ukraine's internet backbone provider GigaTrans, which supplies connectivity to many other networks
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