Netflix, TikTok block services in Russia to avoid crackdown

As the government cracks down on what people and media outlets can say about Russia’s war in Ukraine, Netflix and TikTok suspended most of their services in Russia on Sunday.

After a growing number of multinational businesses cut off Russia from vital financial services, technology, and a variety of consumer products in response to Western economic sanctions and global outrage over the invasion of Ukraine, cutting off online entertainment — and information — is likely to further isolate the country and its people.

Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, all of which are based in the United States, announced service cuts in Russia over the weekend. Samsung Electronics, a leading supplier of smartphones and computer chips in South Korea, has announced that it will halt product shipments to the country, joining Apple, Microsoft, Intel, and Dell in doing so.

Two of the so-called Big Four accounting firms announced their withdrawal from the country on Sunday. Both KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers announced that their relationships with their Russia-based member firms, which employ thousands of people, would come to an end.

Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, called on American technology companies to do more to retaliate against Russia on Sunday. He sent out open letters to Apple and Google, requesting that their app stores be shut down in Russia and that Amazon and Microsoft’s cloud computing services be suspended.

Internet-based service and app providers have been hesitant to take actions that could deprive Russian citizens of social media and other information sources.

That changed on Friday, when Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped up his crackdown on media outlets and individuals who do not follow the Kremlin’s line on the war, blocking Facebook and Twitter and signing a bill criminalising the deliberate dissemination of what Moscow considers to be “fake” news.

Netflix didn’t give a reason for the service outage on Sunday, other than to say it was due to “circumstances on the ground.” The company previously stated that it would not broadcast Russian state television channels.

Russian users of TikTok’s popular social media app will no longer be able to upload new videos or livestreams, and they will also be unable to view videos shared from other countries.

“We have no choice but to suspend livestreaming and new content to our video service in light of Russia’s new ‘fake news’ law,” TikTok said in a statement on Twitter, “while we review the safety implications of this law.” “There will be no impact on our in-app messaging service.”

According to TikTok spokesperson Hilary McQuaide, the TikTok app in Russia is now in “view-only” mode, which means users can’t post or watch new videos or livestreams. They can still watch older videos, but not ones from outside the country, according to her.

“The safety of our employees is our top priority,” she said, adding that the video-sharing service, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, didn’t want its Russian employees or users to face harsh criminal penalties. Some of the protesters who took to the streets in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities to denounce the invasion of Ukraine used social media to spread their message.

The new “fake news” legislation, which was quickly passed by both houses of Russia’s Kremlin-controlled parliament and signed by Putin, imposes prison sentences of up to 15 years for those spreading information that contradicts the Russian government’s war narrative.

Several news organisations have also announced that they will take a break from reporting inside Russia to assess the situation. Russian authorities have falsely labelled reports of Russian military defeats or civilian deaths in Ukraine as “fake” news on numerous occasions. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is referred to as a “special military operation” rather than a war or an invasion by state media outlets.

For spreading what authorities deem to be false news about the military, the law allows for up to three years in prison or a fine, but the maximum penalty is 15 years in cases deemed to have resulted in “severe consequences.”

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