Google said today that YouTube is blocking RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik throughout Europe. “Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, we’re blocking YouTube channels connected to RT and Sputnik across Europe, effective immediately,” Google Europe announced on Twitter. “It’ll take time for our systems to fully ramp up. Our teams continue to monitor the situation around the clock to take swift action.”
Russia’s government has been cracking down on news coverage of its invasion of Ukraine, telling media outlets not to call it “an attack,” “invasion,” or “declaration of war.” The US government has called RT and Sputnik “critical elements in Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem.”
YouTube’s move follows European Union officials saying they are “banning Russia Today and Sputnik from broadcasting” in the EU. “The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our Union,” EU President Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday.
It’s not clear how the ban will be enforced, as an EU spokesperson told reporters yesterday that “we’re looking for the best legal way to ensure we can achieve our objectives,” according to Politico. EU officials reportedly want the ban to apply to online platforms as well. An EU spokesperson told TechCrunch the ban is “expected to cover all means of distribution or transmission, including Internet video sharing platforms and applications.”
Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok take action
YouTube and other online platforms are taking action in the meantime. Facebook and Instagram owner Meta yesterday said it is blocking RT and Sputnik across Europe. A Meta official said the move came after “requests from a number of governments and the EU to take further steps in relation to Russian state controlled media.”
In an update today, Meta said it is “demoting content from Facebook pages and Instagram accounts from Russian state-controlled media outlets, and we are making them harder to find across our platforms.” This change reportedly affects the accounts worldwide, not just in Europe.
Twitter said it is “adding labels to Tweets that share links to Russian state-affiliated media websites and… taking steps to significantly reduce the circulation of this content on Twitter.” The labels say “This tweet links to a Russia state-affiliated media website” and provide a link for more information.
“Since the invasion, we’ve seen more than 45,000 Tweets a day sharing links to Russian state-affiliated media outlets. While we’ve labeled the accounts of hundreds of global state media outlets for years, Tweets sharing their content lacked visible context,” Twitter Head of Site Integrity Yoel Roth wrote yesterday.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry today claimed that Meta and Google should be held accountable for “inciting war,” according to Reuters.
DirecTV said it is dropping RT from its channel lineup, saying, “We are accelerating this year’s contract expiration timeline and will no longer offer their programming effective immediately.”
TikTok said it blocked RT and Sputnik in the European Union. TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has faced scrutiny from US lawmakers about whether it gives information on users to the Chinese government.