A Russian court has banned the use of Facebook and Instagram after labeling the activities of the apps’ parent company Meta as “extremist,” according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

The move came after the Russian prosecutor general’s office appealed to the Moscow court for Meta to be designated an “extremist organization” for allowing users in some countries to call for violence against President Vladimir Putin and Russian soldiers participating in the country’s invasion of Ukraine. WhatsApp, which is also owned by Meta, is not part of the ban. Meta declined to comment on the record.

Individuals will not face criminal charges for using Facebook or Instagram. “The use of Meta’s products by individuals and legal entities should not be considered as participation in extremist activities,” a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office told state media outlet TASS. “Individuals will not be held liable just for using Meta’s services.”

Also citing the prosecutors, the Net Freedoms Project, a Russian human rights organization, said on its Telegram channel that paying for advertising on Instagram and Facebook can now be regarded as financing an extremist organization. Any person, business, or website with links to Facebook and Instagram, and anyone with a business card showing the apps’ logos may face felony charges, it said. “This is a public demonstration of the symbols of an extremist organization,” the organization said.

The ruling will allow Roskomnadzor, Russia’s government media watchdog office, to immediately block Meta’s social networks and shut down relevant offices in Russia.

Russia blocked access to Facebook earlier this month. One week later, Roskomnadzor declared it would also block Instagram in response to Meta’s announcement that it would allow Facebook and Instagram users in Ukraine to post “forms of political expression” that would normally violate the company’s rules against violent speech, such as “death to the Russian invaders.”

RIA Novosti wrote that what Russian prosecutors believe is “extremist information” being spread on Facebook and Instagram “threatens both individuals and society as a whole, and the company violated its own rules by allowing publication of calls for the murder of the Russian military.”

In February, Meta blocked access to Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik in the EU. Other American tech companies, including Google and Apple, have similarly responded to the invasion by blocking access to Russian state media.

Christopher Miller

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