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Russia labels Meta an ‘extremist organisation’, says WhatsApp can stay

Randy Mancini 9 Mar 21
FILE PHOTO: Woman holds smartphone with Meta logo in front of a displayed Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta in this illustration picture
FILE PHOTO: Woman holds smartphone with Meta logo in front of a displayed Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta in this illustration picture taken October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/

March 21, 2022

(Reuters) -A Moscow court on Monday labelled Meta Platforms Inc an “extremist organisation”, but said the decision would not apply to its WhatsApp messenger service, focusing its ire on the company’s already banned Facebook and Instagram social networks.

Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court upheld a lawsuit filed by Russian state prosecutors on banning the activities of Meta on Russian territory, the court’s press service said in a statement.

Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. company’s lawyer, Victoria Shagina, had said in court earlier on Monday that Meta was not carrying out extremist activities and stood against Russophobia, the Interfax news agency reported.

The implications labelling Meta an “extremist organisation”, a designation once reserved for groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State but later given to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, remain unclear.

Meta’s flagship platforms, Facebook and Instagram, are already banned in Russia and the court said WhatsApp would be unaffected by the ruling.

“The decision does not apply to the activities of Meta’s messenger WhatsApp, due to its lack of functionality for the public dissemination of information,” the court said.

Russia banned Facebook for restricting access to Russian media while Instagram was blocked after Meta said it would allow social media users in Ukraine to post messages urging violence against Russian President Vladimir Putin and troops Moscow sent into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Russia calls the conflict in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from people it describes as dangerous nationalists.

Meta has since narrowed its guidance to prohibit calls for the death of a head of state and said its guidance should never be interpreted as condoning violence against Russians in general.

But the perceived threat to Russian citizens angered Russian authorities and led to the launch of a criminal case against the company.

(Reporting by ReutersEditing by David Goodman and Susan Fenton)