The tech giants responsible for services such as YouTube, Reddit, Apple Pay, Instagram and TikTok are responding to Ukraine’s invasion with digital sanctions targeting Russian propaganda agencies. At the same time, some companies offer advertising space to humanitarian organizations providing aid in Ukraine. The aim is to reduce the spread of disinformation about the war in Eastern Europe and to help those who need to find information in line.
As of Tuesday, users residing in the European region can’t access RT YouTube channels or Facebook pages (Russia today) and Sputnik, two Russian state intelligence services that have long been accused of spreading pro-Moscow disinformation. TikTok has also banned them. The decision comes after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen argued that Brussels wants to ban the websites and prevent them from “spreading lies to justify Putin’s war”.
But social media doesn’t stop there. Google, Facebook and Twitter have also restricted the buying of ads by Russian entities, meaning these entities can no longer receive advertising revenue from the tech giants. PÚBLICO has compiled a list of how social media is handling the war in Ukraine.
Facebook and Instagram
Meta creates a war operations center: This Monday, Meta’s head of public policy, Nick Clegg, announced the creation of a special operations center with specialists in all of the company’s products (Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook), including ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, who monitor the platforms around the clock to fight misinformation.
Advertising is “hidden”: Facebook and Instagram “demote” pages and accounts of people or organizations linked to the Russian government. This means that users have a harder time finding the information shared by these pages unless they search for it directly (for example, with a link). The sanction extends to posts that include links to Russian government-controlled media companies, such as RT. Meta says it will also start captioning this type of content with an additional alert.
Encrypted messages arrive on Instagram: Meta announced that the Instagram messaging service is now encrypted by default for users in Russia and Ukraine. THE end-to-end encryption is a security feature that protects user data during an exchange of messages – the content can only be read by both ends of the communication: the sender and the receiver. In theory, the system should prevent intruders on the conversation (for example, Internet Service Providers) from reading the messages. End-to-end encryption is now available by default on WhatsApp and Messenger services.
Google disables certain real-time information: Over the weekend, the American technology company removed access from users inside and outside Ukraine to real-time information on the occupation of public spaces (e.g. restaurants, streets and supermarkets) in this country. The goal is to keep people safe in Ukraine by preventing Russian forces from using this information to decide how to mount attacks.
YouTube bans RT and Sputnik: Google, owner of the video site YouTube, has blocked the channels of Russian news sites Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik in the European region due to the war in Ukraine. “This channel is not available in your country”, is the message that appears to users who try to access the YouTube pages of advertising channels.
Two million dollars in advertisements given: Google also provides free advertising space to organizations that want to reach people seeking information and assistance in Ukraine. The tech has set aside two million dollars for these ads.
Free access to Project Shield: O Project Shield offers unlimited free protection against DDoS attacks and several websites in Ukraine have opted for the service and meet the eligibility criteria. In DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, the goal is to overload a computer network with too much information in order to cripple it. During the European elections in May 2019, Google also offered the technology to political organizations in the European Union.
r/Russia in quarantine: The forum platform in line Reddit has placed the r/Russia and r/RussiaPolitics forums in “quarantine” due to increased misinformation in posts. This means that these forums, called subreddits, will not be recommended by the platform. Anyone who lands on the r/Russia and r/RussiaPolitics pages will see a notice about the content. For example, the r/Russia forum reads: “This subreddit contains a high volume of information that is not supported by credible sources.”
Product sales suspended: On Tuesday, Apple announced that it was suspending sales of all its products in Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops. The company also limits the use of services such as Apple Pay, the payment solution usable on iPhone, Apple Watch and iPad in Russia.
RT and Sputnik banned from the Apple store: It is also no longer possible to download mobile apps from Russian state media. RT and Sputnik from the Apple Store in countries outside of Russia.
AppleMaps limits information in Russia and Ukraine: As Google had done before, Tim Cook’s company has disabled real-time information about popular places on Apple’s mapping services.
Labeled publications: Unlike Meta (owner of Facebook and Instagram) and Google (owner of YouTube), Twitter will not exclude RT and Sputnik accounts from its platform. Instead, the company labels posts on these pages with a message that says “this post is from a Russian state media website.”
Microsoft shares information with the Ukrainian government: On February 24, the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) detected a series of cyberattacks targeting Ukraine’s digital infrastructure and alerted the Ukrainian government to the situation.
MSN and Bing limit advertising sites: Microsoft, owner of the Bing search engine, has confirmed that it is “demoting” RT and Sputnik results in the search engine so that “a search will only show RT and Sputnik results when a user specifically wants to browse these pages”. The MSN site, which is also owned by Microsoft, has stopped sharing content from Sputnik or RT.
RT and Sputnik outside of TikTok in Europe: As with other platforms, TikTok users in Europe are no longer able to access state media accounts RT and Sputnik on TikTok.