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Facebook and TikTok block Russian state media in Europe

Facebook, TikTok and Microsoft are cracking down on Kremlin-backed news outlets RT and Sputnik following the European Union's ban on Russian state media.

"We have received requests from a number of governments and the EU to take further steps in relation to Russian state controlled media. Given the exceptional nature of the current situation, we will be restricting access to RT and Sputnik across the EU at this time," said Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Facebook parent Meta.

A spokesperson for TikTok told NPR it was also blocking the two outlets in the EU. The moves mean people using the social media apps in EU countries won't be able to access pages or content posted by RT and Sputnik.

Microsoft on Monday said it would drop RT's news apps from its smartphone app store, not display any RT or Sputnik content on its Microsoft Start news feed and MSN.com, and push the sites down in Bing search results.

On Sunday, EU President Ursula von der Leyen announced a ban on the two outlets, which she described as "the Kremlin's media machine."

"The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, and their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin's war," she tweeted.

The Russian media outlets have emerged as a flashpoint for social media platforms, which are under pressure to curb Russian propaganda and disinformation about the war in Ukraine.

RT and Sputnik have amassed large followings on apps including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, where they push a pro-Kremlin agenda. RT, which has more than 7 million followers on its main Facebook page and 4.6 million subscribers to its main YouTube channel, has framed Russia's invasion as a response to Ukrainian aggression and toed the Kremlin's line in calling it a "special operation."

Google and Facebook are also blocking Russian state media in Ukraine at the request of the government there. Along with Microsoft, they have also cut off state-backed outlets from using their advertising tools.

Earlier on Monday, Twitter said it would put warning labels on tweets with links to stories from Russian state media. It's also making it less likely people will see these tweets, similar to what it has done with false claims about the 2020 election and COVID-19.

Editor's note: Meta pays NPR to license NPR content. Microsoft is among NPR's financial supporters.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.