Netflix and TikTok have suspended most of their services in Russia as the government cracks down on what people and media outlets can say about Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Netflix did not specify on Sunday a reason for the move, except to say it reflected “circumstances on the ground”. The company had previously said it would refuse to air Russian state TV channels.
TikTok announced that Russian users of its popular social media app would no longer be able to post new videos or livestreams, nor would they be able to view videos shared from other parts of the world.
“In light of Russia’s new ‘fake news’ law, we have no choice but to suspend livestreaming and new content to our video service while we review the safety implications of this law,” TikTok said in a Twitter statement, referring to new legislation that threatens to jail anyone found spreading “fake” news about the Russian army. “There will be no disruption to our in-app messaging service.”
According to TikTok spokesperson Hilary McQuaide, the app in Russia is now in “view-only” mode, and users will be unable to post or view new videos or livestreams. They can still view older videos, but only if they are 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 part of the China-based tech company ByteDance, did not want to expose either its Russian employees or users to harsh criminal penalties.
Some activists who took to the streets in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and other Russian cities to condemn the invasion of Ukraine have used social media platforms to spread their message.
Providers of internet-based services and apps have generally been hesitant to take actions that could deprive Russian citizens of social media services and other sources of information.
That changed on Friday, when Russian President Vladimir Putin increased his crackdown on media outlets and individuals who do not support the Kremlin’s position on the war, blocking Facebook and Twitter.
The new “fake news” legislation, which was quickly approved by both houses of parliament and signed by Putin, imposes prison sentences of up to 15 years for those who spread information contradicting the Russian government’s narrative on the war.
Several news organizations have also stated that they will take a break from reporting inside Russia to assess the situation.
Russian authorities have repeatedly referred to reports of Russian military defeats or civilian deaths in Ukraine as “fake news.” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is referred to as a “special military operation” rather than a war or an invasion by state media outlets.
Pulling the plug on online entertainment – and information – will likely further isolate the country and its people, after a growing number of multinational corporations have cut Russia off 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.
Visa, Mastercard, and American Express all announced over the weekend that they would discontinue service in Russia.
Samsung Electronics, a leading supplier of both smartphones and computer chips from South Korea, announced a halt in product shipments to the country, joining other major technology companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Intel, and Dell.