Veronika Loginova. Photo: @logiinovva / Instagram
An 18-year-old fashion influencer in Russia says she faces up to 6 years in prison for using Instagram.According to Russian digital rights NGO Roskomsvoboda, Veronika Loginova is the first individual to be prosecuted after a Russian court banned Instagram and Facebook for “extremist” activities in March in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine.
Loginova has 550,000 followers on Instagram, as well as a similar number of subscribers on YouTube. Her entire profile focuses on fashion shoots and poses in different clothes. A skim through Instagram posts geotagged to Moscow, where Loginova is based, show that many Russians using VPNs continue to post content on the platform despite the ban.Loginova posted pictures of a document on Instagram that she claims was sent to her by Russian prosecutors, who accuse her of having “performed actions to attract users on the social networks Facebook and Instagram.”The prosecutor’s statement added that posting there “can be considered a form of participation in the activities of an extremist organisation” and that an audit had been conducted of Loginova’s content.In her Instagram post, Loginova said that she was first alerted to attention from authorities when her mother called her in August telling her “the people came to our house and they are looking for you.”She said her response to the document she received was: “Are you serious? Me? An 18-year-old girl and fashion blogger? An entrepreneur, a creator of a clothing brand who pays taxes to her country? A person who posts about mental health support and has never touched a political agenda on their blog?“This is a total fuck up.”
She has turned to the legal support of Roskomsvoboda, a Russian non-profit that supports the protection of internet users’ digital rights, whose head of legal practice Sarkis Darbinyan said: “This is, of course, not at all what the prosecutors promised when they recognised Instagram and Facebook as extremist, when they publicly stated that this decision would not affect end users. Now it turns out that it does.“According to the logic of the prosecutor, now for anyone saying ‘follow me on Instagram’ they are threatened with up to 14 years in prison!”A Moscow-based brand analytics company said Russian active users on Instagram declined by 31 per cent in the month following the invasion of Ukraine.Russian content creators have had to pivot their social media strategies for fear of being persecuted by the state, or because platforms themselves have stopped serving Russian users. Many felt abandoned after TikTok stopped operating in the country, having become a focal point for news content as the war developed. Many have focused their efforts on YouTube, where users can still post but where they can no longer earn ad revenue – or they have abandoned Western platforms altogether and focus on local ones like VK.
But creators VICE World News has spoken to are surprised at what has happened to Loginova.One creator who spoke anonymously to avoid action from the Russian state said: “I feel like they care less now about social media at the moment because the country is on fire,” in reference to Vladimir Putin’s recent nuclear rhetoric. On the Roskomsvoboda website Darbinyan added: “In our opinion, the prosecutor exceeded his powers and did not give any specifics about what kind of actions on Instagram from now on he will interpret as participation in the activities of an extremist organisation.”“The warning received from the Kuntsevskaya prosecutor’s office, of course, causes concern for the blogger who received it, and it applies not only to a particular person, but to all bloggers, young and old – from little-known amateurs with a meagre number of subscribers, to users and journalists using Insta to distribute professional content.”The non-profit said it had appealed to the prosecutor’s office requesting further information.