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Since Monday, Instagram is no longer available in Russia. This was decided in the previous days by Roskomnadzor, the Russian government agency that deals with telecommunications, arguing that Meta, the US company that controls Instagram and Facebook, had allowed its users to publish hateful messages towards the Russian population.
The real reason is actually linked to the willingness of the Russian government to further limit the possibilities for Russian citizens to obtain information from independent sources. In the previous days, the Russian government had already blocked access to Facebook and Twitter, but the Instagram blocking is considered a much more relevant measure and with greater consequences for the Russian population. The reason is the greater diffusion of the social network in Russia compared to the first two, especially among young people.
After Vkontakte (VK), which is a kind of Russian Facebook, until Monday Instagram was the most popular social network in the country. According to Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, there are currently 80 million users of the social network in Russia, more than half of the 145 million inhabitants of the whole country.
The great diffusion of Instagram in Russia has meant that the Russian government’s decision to block it has had consequences that had not been seen in the country so far: compared to when Facebook and Twitter were made unreachable, in this case many Russian users have complained publicly the choice of Russia to block the social network. Ordinary users have done it, but above all the so-called “influencers”, people whose popularity largely depends on Instagram, and who in fact have made their presence on the social network a job.
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In recent days, before the social network was blocked, many of them had published posts and videos in which they had said “goodbye” to their followers and had invited them to follow them on other platforms. Some had issued heartfelt and tearful appeals, explaining how sorry and displeased they were by the government’s decision.
For example, Olga Buzova, a singer well known in Russia for her participation in a reality show and who had more than 23 million followers on Instagram, had done so, who in a video published last Saturday had said: “I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t want to lose you. I shared my life, my work and my soul here. I didn’t do this as a job, this is a part of my soul. It is as if a part of my heart and my life were taken away from me. “
In addition to the popularity of influencers, the blocking of Instagram will inevitably also affect the work of many people who in Russia use the social network as an e-commerce platform. For example, you told the Financial Times Inga Mela, jewelry designer who used Instagram to promote her brand but also to find ideas, inspirations, projects and suppliers. “I find it hard to even imagine my life without this app,” she said commenting on the block.
Even before the Russian government’s decision to make Instagram unreachable, many users had begun to open accounts on other social networks, but especially on Telegram, one of the most popular messaging systems in the world after WhatsApp. Unlike the latter, it allows you to create channels, which work a bit like public profiles on social networks. The channels had allowed many of these people to continue posting content and stay in touch with their followers.
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Many are also using Telegram to circumvent the censorship that the Russian government has imposed on all the country’s media by preventing them from talking about the invasion of Ukraine as a war, with the approval of a new law that criminalizes those who spread ” fake news ”, that is news contrary to the government’s line. The contents published on Telegram are not subjected to any internal moderation, which allows the dissemination of news that would otherwise be censored. Obviously, this also allows the opposite thing to happen, that is, the circulation of false news conveyed by channels created to make propaganda to the Russian government.
Those who want to continue using Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in Russia are doing it with VPN services, an acronym that stands for “Virtual Private Network”. These services, simplifying a lot, serve to deceive the recognition mechanisms of IP addresses, or those addresses that identify your country of origin, and to replace them with those of a country of your choice.
Using VPN technology, a person living in Russia can then connect to the internet as if they were in another country. According to the data collected by the analytics service Top10VPNOn Monday after the Instagram lockdown, requests for access to VPN services in Russia would have increased by 2,692 percent compared to the daily average recorded in the week before the invasion of Ukraine.