Social Media Is ‘Bad for Dictators’ Like Putin

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  • Russia’s media regulator blocked Facebook last week.
  • Meta’s Sheryl Sandberg said social media is a threat to dictators, and “that’s why Putin took us down.”
  • This is the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine that a Meta executive criticized Putin by name.

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook-owner Meta, said on Tuesday that social media is a threat to dictators, and that’s what caused President Vladimir Putin to block access to Facebook in Russia.

“Social media is bad for dictators, that’s why Putin took us down,” Sandberg said during an interview with CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at an International Women’s day event sponsored by Cartier in Dubai.

Meta and its subsidiaries have introduced a series of measures on its platforms to combat misinformation since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In response, Russia’s tech and communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, announced on Friday it was blocking access to Facebook, accusing the social media giant of “discrimination.”

This is the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine that a Meta executive has specifically criticized Vladimir Putin by name, and the first time Sandberg or any other high-ranking executive has called Russia a “dictatorship.” A Meta spokesperson did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for further comment.

Sandberg said one of the reasons Russia blocked Facebook was because the platform refused to stop labeling posts from state media with fact-checks. Russian misinformation on Facebook has been a sensitive issue for Meta (formerly known as Facebook) since the 2016 US election, when Russian disinformation campaigns were found to have targeted US users.

“If you think about what’s happening, if you think about before social media in a country like Russia, you know the media was completely controlled by one voice,” she said. “That’s what social media changes.”

“The scariest part of all of this is the lack of access,” she added. “When we go down in Russia people are losing their ability to actually understand what’s happening.”

“I think it is a real shame that we’re down and that other services are down, because we now don’t know what kind of information is available there and it’s much, much, much more restricted,” Sandberg said.

Russians’ access to Twitter has been restricted since February 26, and TikTok said it would suspend all livestreaming and content sharing in Russia in response to a new “fake news” law in the country.

Roskomnadzor did not specify whether Meta’s other Instagram platforms and WhatsApp would be included in the Facebook block.

Following Roskomnadzor’s block, Meta pulled all advertising from Russia and blocked Russian companies from buying ads to place anywhere in the world.

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