Russia said Friday it would block access to Facebook, adding to the country’s growing isolation during the invasion of Ukraine and closing another avenue for Russians to learn about the war.
Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, said in a statement it was cutting off access in response to Facebook’s decision this week to block Russian media outlets such as RT and Sputnik for people within the European Union.
“On March 4, 2022, it was decided to block access to the Facebook network (owned by Meta Platforms, Inc.) in the Russian Federation,” the regulator said.
It cited “26 cases of discrimination against Russian media and information resources,” actions it said are prohibited by Russian laws on the dissemination of information.
It was not immediately clear if the decision applied only to Facebook or also to other services such as Instagram and WhatsApp, all of which are owned by parent company Meta.
Nick Clegg, Meta’s president for global affairs, criticized the decision and said the company would fight back.
“Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out,” Clegg said in a statement.
“We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they remain available to people to safely and securely express themselves and organize for action,” he said. He did not say how the company might restore services.
The company does not disclose how many people in Russia use its services, but one estimate put the total around 70 million people, or nearly half the country.
Tensions have been ratcheting up between Russia and U.S.-based tech and media companies since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine on Feb. 21. Google on Thursday suspended all advertising in Russia and earlier this week blocked access to RT and Sputnik across the E.U.
European Commission President Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen has criticized “the Kremlin’s media machine,” and E.U. officials have been meeting with tech company executives to discuss restrictions.
Within Russia, Putin’s government has intensified a broad crackdown on independent and foreign-based journalists.
“Everything that’s not propaganda is being eliminated,” Dmitri Muratov, a journalist who shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year, told The New York Times.
Earlier Friday, BBC News said it would suspend reporting work in Russia after Russia’s parliament passed a law making it an offense to disseminate what it described as “fake” information about the country’s armed forces.
Russia’s communications regulator has also restricted access to Voice of America, Radio Liberty and other foreign-based media outlets for the same reason, the RIA state news agency reported.
The independent radio network Echo of Moscow and the television station TV Rain also said they were halting operations, while German outlet Deutsche Welle was completely unavailable.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.
David Ingram covers tech for NBC News.
Chantal Da Silva