Updated Mar 1, 2022 - Economy & Business

Walls closing in on Russia's propaganda machine

Illustration of a TV wearing a bandit's mask.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine has finally pushed Western institutions to crack down on Russian state-backed media outlets like RT, Sputnik and TASS, which have long served as a propaganda arm of the Kremlin.

Why it matters: Russia seeded the war through disinformation spread by its state-backed media channels. It still relies on those networks to spread disinformation beyond its borders and to sell the war as a success domestically.

Driving the news: The European Commission has said it will ban "the Kremlin's media machine" in the EU. RT, Sputnik and other outlets "will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.

  • Several companies, including Google, TikTok, Facebook and Microsoft, are already carrying out that ban and are restricting access to Russian state-owned media within the EU.
  • The U.K.'s media regulator, Ofcom, said Monday it's launching 15 investigations into RT, Russia's state-backed television channel.
  • A group of leading Ukrainian media groups wrote an open letter to global TV providers urging them to stop distributing Russian state networks.

What we're watching: Crackdowns from private companies, including Big Tech platforms, may prove even more potent, given how much Russian state media has relied on social networks to spread disinformation.

  • Microsoft's Start platform, which includes MSN.com, will not display any state-sponsored RT and Sputnik content, and it's removing the RT news apps from its Windows app store.
  • Twitter on Monday said it will start labeling all tweets that contain content from Russian state-affiliated media websites, and will reduce the visibility and amplification of any tweets that contain content from Russian state media.
  • Facebook's parent company, Meta, has restricted access to several accounts in Ukraine, including those belonging to some Russian state media, at the request of the Ukrainian government. Meta said it's also reviewing other government requests to restrict Russian state controlled media.
  • YouTube is “significantly limiting recommendations" to Russian state media channels, a spokesperson told Axios.
  • Netflix said it will defy a Russian law ordering it to add state propaganda channels to its service there.

Yes, and: Google, YouTube, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook have all restricted or banned Russian state media organizations from selling ads.

What to watch: TV distributors in the U.S. are facing pressure to remove Russian state media from their platforms, though they largely haven't done so yet.

  • Roku is removing RT in Europe from the Roku Channel store.
  • Dish said in a statement "Our thoughts are with all the people of Ukraine, and particularly with our team members in the country. We are closely monitoring the situation."
  • DirecTV, which also carries the network, did not respond to request for comment.
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