TikTok has imposed restrictions on its service in Russia, and Netflix has suspended streaming there entirely, as western companies continue to pull out of the country.
Chinese-owned TikTok said it would block livestreaming and uploading of new content in Russia after the Kremlin criminalized the spreading of what it deems to be fake news about its invasion of Ukraine. Netflix did not specify a reason for suspending its services on Sunday, saying the move reflected “circumstances on the ground”. The company had previously said it would refuse to air Russian state TV channels.
TikTok said on Twitter it was a source of “relief and human connection during a time of war” but the safety of the video platform’s users and employees was its highest priority. The BBC, CNN and other global media outlets have temporarily suspended reporting in Russia to protect their journalists.
TikTok’s popularity with under-25s has extended to its Russia-Ukraine content, with content from UK-based TikTokers alone gathering millions of views, although the platform has also had to grapple with fake and misleading content. Social media companies have also clashed with the Kremlin, with Facebook and Twitter suspended in Russia in retaliation for blocking the state-backed news services Russia Today and Sputnik in the EU.
Meanwhile, US credit card companies Visa, Mastercard and American Express said over the weekend they would cut services in Russia, although it will not stop domestic purchases. South Korea’s Samsung Electronics, a leading supplier of both smartphones and computer chips, said it would halt product shipments to the country, joining other big tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Intel and Dell.
Two of the so-called big four accounting firms said on Sunday they were cutting ties to the country. KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers will end their relationships with their Russia-based member firms, each of which employs thousands of people.
Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, called on US technology companies on Sunday to do more to hit back against Russia. I have tweeted open letters asking Apple and Google to shut down their app stores in Russia and for Amazon and Microsoft to suspend their cloud computing services.
TikTok spokesperson Hilary McQuaide said the app in Russia now appears in “view-only” mode and won’t let people post or see new videos or livestreams. They can still see older videos, but not if they came from outside the country, she said.
“The safety of employees is our top priority,” she said, adding that the video-sharing service part of China-based tech company ByteDance did not want to put either its Russian employees or users at risk of severe criminal penalties. Some protesters who have taken to the streets in Moscow, St Petersburg and other Russian cities to protest against the invasion of Ukraine have used social media platforms to broadcast their cause.
The new “fake news” legislation, quickly rubber-stamped by both houses of the Kremlin-controlled parliament and signed by Putin, imposes prison sentences of up to 15 years for those spreading information that goes against the Russian government’s narrative on the war.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism