Russian lawmakers float WhatsApp ban

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WhatsApp, like Facebook and Instagram, may be blocked in Russia if its capabilities are expanded to make it more than just a messaging network, politicians in Moscow have warned.

Meta owns all three sites, and it was declared an extremist organisation in Russia shortly after the combat in Ukraine began in February 2022.

As a result, Facebook and Instagram were banned in the country for permitting hate speech against Russian citizens and disseminating misleading information about the confrontation between Moscow and Kiev. WhatsApp circumvented regulations at the time by being classified primarily as a communication tool.

WhatsApp’s announcement on Wednesday that its Channels feature, introduced in some places earlier this year, will be made available in 150 countries is a cause for “particular concern,” Senator Viktor Bondarev, a member of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, wrote on his Telegram-channel on Thursday.

“Such a path in the development of the messaging platform might lead to its transformation into a means of information warfare,” he warned, referring to the dissemination of false information about Russia or its military action in Ukraine. “As a result, the implementation of mechanisms to combat these threats, as well as the possible blocking of the messenger [app] in Russia, should not be ruled out.”

According to Bondarev, who chairs the Federation Council’s Defence and Security Committee, Moscow’s earlier exception for WhatsApp must be reconsidered.

Russia should also follow China’s path, which has its own WeChat app, and “think about a fully local messaging platform,” the lawmaker suggested. A move of this nature would be “reasonable, timely, and promising,” he noted.

Bondarev advised Russians to explore for alternatives to WhatsApp, such as Yandex, Messenger, and Telegram, which he described as “friendly to the Russian information space.”

The Senator’s remarks were echoed by Anton Gorelkin, a senior member of the State Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, who also stated that if WhatsApp “begins to expand its functionality towards mass dissemination of information, the official position regarding its activities in Russia may be revised.”

WhatsApp defined the Channels upgrade in a blog post as “a one-way broadcast tool for admins to send text, photos, videos, stickers, and polls” to their followers. Celebrities, sports teams, artists, innovators, and “thought leaders” have been invited to use the new tool.