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Russia Adds Meta Spokesperson to List of Individuals Wanted

Meta Spokesman Andy Stone Added to Russia's Wanted List Amidst Growing Tensions In a move reflecting the ongoing conflict between the Putin regime and Meta Platforms, Russia has included Meta's communications spokesperson, Andy Stone, on its 'wanted' list.

Reports from the Associated Press, citing Russian state agency Tass and independent news outlet Mediazona, indicate that Stone's inclusion in the wanted list occurred last year, as per the country's interior ministry's online database.

The strained relations between the Putin regime and predominantly American tech platforms intensified following Russia's unlawful invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The invasion drew widespread condemnation, leading to substantial sanctions and major tech companies withdrawing their services from Russia.

In March 2022, Russia initiated a criminal case against Meta after the social media giant announced a temporary allowance of "calls for violence" on Facebook and Instagram in response to Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. This decision included calls for violence against Russian President Vladimir Putin and invading soldiers, following reports of war crimes committed by the Russian military.

Subsequently, Russia banned Instagram, popular among Russian citizens, after Meta's policy change. Notably, Meta had already faced restrictions in Russia, with its communication regulator blocking Facebook when Meta limited access to Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik in the European Union.

Meta later revised its policy, banning calls for the death of heads of state, but allowing other forms of 'calls for violence.' However, in October 2022, Russia declared Meta Platforms a terrorist organization. This designation made it a criminal offense for Russian citizens to access Instagram or Facebook, even through virtual private networks (VPNs), leading to increased demand for VPNs to circumvent Moscow's censorship.

The Russian interior ministry's database lists Andy Stone as wanted on criminal charges, without specifying the details of the case. Meta has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Mediazona, an independent news website covering Russia's opposition and prison system, reported that Stone was added to the wanted list in February 2022, though authorities made no announcements at the time, and the news only surfaced recently.

The conflict has also seen Moscow's efforts to block various Western social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (X), which were popular among young Russians before the invasion. These platforms are now only accessible through VPNs. Furthermore, popular messaging platform WhatsApp, along with Snapchat, Discord, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, and Telegram, was blocked in Russia in March 2023.

In October of the current year, a Russian senator for the ruling United Russia party announced plans by Roskomnadzor to block Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) from March 1, 2024.


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