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‘I’m writing this post and crying’: Russian influencers and small-business owners are mourning the closure of Instagram

March 14, 2022, 1:37 PM UTC

Russians have been barred from using Instagram as the Kremlin cracks down on social media platforms that do not toe the government’s line on its invasion of Ukraine.

Instagram has outsize popularity in Russia, where it boasts 80 million users, and the impact of shuttering the social media platform goes well beyond inconveniencing Russians who post vacation and family photos. The ban on Instagram is an especially tough blow for influencers and small-business owners in the country, where it is widely used as a business tool.

After the ban went into effect at midnight, users were left facing a blank screen when they went to the app.

Tearful farewells

Influencers and other online personalities have been posting tearful farewell videos or selfies with links to their profile on VK, Russia’s most dominant, non-Western social media site, to ensure their popularity is transferred out of Instagram.

Before Instagram was shut down, reality TV star Olga Buzova, who had the second most popular Instagram account in Russia with 23 million followers, sent a farewell message writing “I hope this isn’t true.”

“Right now, I’m writing this post and crying,” she said.

Small-business heartache

While influencers film themselves making tearful goodbyes, Instagram’s departure from the country also leaves many small-business owners—who use the platform to advertise, process sales, and communicate with clients—also lost.

Shutting down Instagram, and the previous ban on Facebook, also puts Meta’s WhatsApp at risk. WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in Russia, used by 77 million people.

“Don’t forget that half of our small and medium businesses are linked to Instagram and WhatsApp,” Alexandra Mitroshina, a Russian blogger who often gives advice on how to monetize Instagram, told her 2 million followers on Instagram before the ban came into place.

Meta vs. Roskomnadzor

The move from the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor to shut down the platform came after Instagram’s owner, Meta, said social media users in Ukraine could post messages such as “Death to the Russian invaders.

Meta, which also owns Facebook, said on Friday the temporary change in its hate speech policy applied only to Ukraine, noting Instagram’s policies “are focused on protecting people’s rights to speech as an expression of self-defense in reaction to a military invasion of their country,” Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg said in a post on Twitter.

Meta later clarified that it is against the company’s user rules to share a post that “calls for the death of a head of state,” referencing though not naming Russian President Vladimir Putin. But this did little to quell the outrage from Instagram’s initial decision to allow hate speech against Russian invaders.

Russian authorities said allowing calls for violence against Russians was a breach of international law and opened a criminal investigation against Meta. Prosecutors asked the Russian court to designate the U.S. tech giant as an “extremist organization.”

“We need to ensure the psychological health of citizens, especially children and adolescents, to protect them from harassment and insults online,” Roskomnadzor said in an email message asking people to move their photos and videos off the platform before it was shut down and encouraging users to switch to Russia’s own platforms.

The head of Instagram noted that of the 80 million users affected by the ban, 80% followed accounts outside of Russia.

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