Friday, June 2, 2023

Russia’s blocking of Instagram is a serious problem, and not just for ‘influencers’

Starting this Monday, Instagram is officially blocked in Russia. Already on Friday, it had been known that the Roskomnadzor, the Kremlin’s media, and communications regulator, had lowered the thumb to the social network belonging to Meta (Facebook). However, they gave users 48 hours of grace to continue using it before imposing the formal restriction.

Instagram censorship leaves the Russian people without direct access to the three most important social networks in the world. It is that both Facebook and Twitter had already suffered the same fate in previous weeks, as messages against the war in Ukraine and Vladimir Putin grew.

But neither block is likely to be as felt in Russia as Instagram’s. This is because the platform enjoyed very important popularity in this country; according to Statistical, the Russian user base was 56.5 million in 2021 with a projection of taking it above 76 million by 2025.

For Adam Mosseri, the head of the social network, the estimates were even more important. Last Friday, the manager posted on Twitter that the blocking of Instagram would affect some 80 million in Russia, “separating them from each other and the rest of the world.” And in the last part of that sentence lies a key point to understand why the determination of the Putin government is so serious: about 80% of Russian users followed at least one account from another country.

By cutting off access to the social network, Russia is closing the door that allowed the public to find out what was happening outside their country, without censorship, or to get a different look from that of the official media when dealing with local problems. And while it’s likely that you can get around the restrictions using a VPN or the Tor network, those extra steps can be a hassle for most.

A problem that is not limited to ‘influencers’

When talking about Russia and Instagram, it is inevitable to think about the influencers. After all, as is the case in the vast majority of countries, many content creators used their accounts on the platform to promote themselves and earn money. A recent report from Washington Post puts the spotlight on this topic and how those who have amassed millions of followers on the platform over the years, have lost them overnight literally.

Some have chosen to move their online activity to Telegram; others have gravitated toward VK, the Russian government-controlled social network. But the truth is that the influencers represent a small part of those affected by the cut to access to Instagram in Russian territory. The aforementioned article also highlights small and medium businesses that are missing a critical platform to interact with their customers; the same goes for charities that used it to promote their campaigns and collect money.

And don’t forget the activists either. Those who raised their voice against the war in Ukraine and the actions of the Kremlin have also been affected by this situation. Some of the most notorious cases are those of the TV presenter and journalist Ksenia Sobchack who had 9 million followers, and Anastasiya Ivleyeva actress and public figure with almost 19 million followers.

Russia's blocking of Instagram is a serious problem, and not just for 'influencers'
Source: Solen Feyissa/Unsplash

Russia needs Instagram, and vice versa

Let’s see the statistics. Russia currently has just over 146 million inhabitants, of which just under 60 million had Instagram accounts. This means that almost 40% of the population had a presence on the social network, at least until the lockdown took effect. Undoubtedly, this ratifies the importance that the platform had achieved among the public.

For years, every time Russia and Instagram shared a story, it was because of the “rich kids” who flaunted their lifestyle in their posts. That was not a true reflection of the reality of common users in that country, but it did allow the international media to cheaply exploit morbidity and eccentricities.

Without Instagram, the Russian public misses out on a vital source of information and content. without Russia, the social network loses its main European market in terms of the number of users. Today it is impossible to know what the future will bring to the blocking of the most important social networks in the world; however, it seems unlikely that the relationship between the Kremlin and major US companies will improve in the short term, at least under current sociopolitical conditions.


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