In what may be a landmark moment in digital diplomacy, the Instagram and Facebook accounts of a brutal Russian leader loyal to Vladimir Putin have been suspended due to U.S. sanctions. Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya, was remarkably fond of the platform, and now he’s promoting a Russian-built clone which he says is “in no way inferior.”
Kadyrov’s name was added to the Magnitsky sanctions list last week, alongside dozens of non-Russians eligible under a recent expansion of the statute. Kadyrov has been accused of horrific human rights abuses, including the murder of political opponents and ordering Chechen parents to kill their gay children.
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The murderous strongman was also, in a juxtaposition that basically sums up 2017, an Instagram star with over 3 million followers, according to Gizmodo. He even took to Instagram to jokingly dismiss the sanctions, which freeze his U.S. assets and restrict American businesses from transacting with him.
Since his suspension from Instagram, Kadyrov has moved his online presence to a local app called Mylistory, which Gizmodo describes as “Instagram with fewer features, right down to a ripoff of Instagram’s old golden logo and font.” 30,000 people have reportedly registered accounts with the service since Kadyrov and other Chechen officials migrated there.
It’s a perfect illustration of the fragmentation that’s already underway as major social media platforms increasingly work to get rid of hateful, harassing, or illegal content. In the U.S., for example, extremist figures banned from Twitter have transitioned to Gab, a Twitter-like platform that welcomes them. It remains to be seen whether this sort of fragmentation will insulate other users against radicalization, or just give extremists deeper shadows to hide in.