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Apple, Netflix and TikTok retaliate against Russian state media content

Several major Hollywood and Silicon Valley companies are distancing themselves from Russian state programming amid concerns about the proliferation of Russian propaganda and disinformation surrounding the invasion of Ukraine.

Apple, Netflix, TikTok and Facebook’s parent company Meta are the latest US media companies to respond to the crisis in Eastern Europe.

Netflix, which registered as an audiovisual service in Russia in December, had to comply with a law that would require the streaming service to carry 20 Russian federal TV channels, including Channel One and programming from the Russian Orthodox Church. in Russia, according to The Times of Moscow. The outlet reported on Dec. 21 that the law will affect Netflix in March.

On Monday, Netflix said it would not follow the rule.

“Given the current situation, we have no plans to add these channels to our service,” Netflix said in a statement.

The company has suspended all future projects and acquisitions from Russia, according to a source close to Netflix not authorized to comment. The company has four Russian-language projects that are either in production or in post-production. Filming was recently halted for one of the projects, crime drama “ZATO,” the source said.

Apple announced on Tuesday that it was suspending all product sales in Russia and limiting Apple Pay and other services in the country. Outside of Russia, news outlets RT and Sputnik, which are widely believed to be controlled by the Russian government, are no longer available for download on the App Store. Apple said it also disabled traffic incidents on Apple Maps in Ukraine.

“We are deeply concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and stand with all those who suffer as a result of the violence,” Apple said in a statement. “We will continue to assess the situation and are in communication with the governments concerned on the measures we are taking. We join with all those around the world calling for peace.

US corporate support for Ukraine comes at a time when public sentiment against the Russian invasion remains strong and the Russian currency continues to lose value against the dollar.

“It’s a global condemnation of what Russia has done,” said Rob Enderle, senior analyst at consultancy Enderle Group. “The optics of actively selling in a country that is now so widely hated would likely do more harm to their brand than the sales would do them any good.”

Several other companies have also taken action against Russian-affiliated outlets.

Meta, the parent company of popular social media apps Facebook and Instagram, restricts access to Russian state media, such as RT, in Ukraine and throughout the European Union.

RT, which is funded by the Russian Federation, launched its first international news channel in 2005 and is now available in more than 100 countries, according to its website. The media company says it owns nine TV channels and says it “creates news with an edge for viewers who want to know more.”

“RT covers stories ignored by mainstream media, offers alternative perspectives on current events and presents international audiences with a Russian perspective on major world events,” the outlet says on its website.

But politicians and industry watchers have raised concerns that RT harbors Russian propaganda.

“He’s definitely the spokesperson for the Russian government,” said Kathryn Stoner, a Stanford University political science professor and author of “Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New World Order.” told The Times last week.

Meta’s vice president for global affairs, Nick Clegg, said the company is now downgrading content published by Russian state-controlled media, “making them harder to find across [the company’s] platforms,” and restricted access to RT and Sputnik in Ukraine and the European Union.

The company’s priority, Clegg said, “has been to ensure that people can continue to use our apps and services securely,” including in Russia. The company has previously received criticism from Russian authorities for fact-checking messages published by Russian state media outlets and has blocked those outlets from generating advertising revenue on its platform.

RT and Sputnik did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In a statement given to CNN, RT Deputy Editor Anna Belkina brushed off criticism from others on her outlet.

“As far as the Russian voice, or just a different perspective, is not allowed to exist in the free media space,” Belkina said in a statement, as quoted by CNN.

Snap, the parent company of social media app Snapchat, said on Tuesday it had stopped all ads running in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine and was “pausing ad sales to all Russian entities and Belarusians and complied with all sanctions against Russian companies and individuals”. ”

TikTok confirmed on Tuesday that it has geo-blocked access to RT and Sputnik media accounts in the European Union.

Spotify closed its office in Russia and removed RT and Sputnik content in the EU and other markets. The company declined to say how many people worked there.

“Our team has reviewed thousands of pieces of content since the start of the war and narrowed the possibility of discovering broadcasts owned and operated by Russian state-affiliated media,” Spotify said in a statement.

YouTube said it was also blocking channels connected to RT and Sputnik across Europe “with immediate effect” due to the war in Ukraine. YouTube parent company Google has confirmed that Russian state-funded media will no longer be eligible to be on Google News and has blocked apps connected to RT and Sputnik from the Google Play Store in Europe. Google also temporarily disabled certain features of Google Maps in Ukraine, such as location attendance “to help protect the safety of local communities and their citizens.”

Roku announced on Tuesday that it will be removing RT from the Roku Channel Store.

DirecTV announced on Tuesday that it will no longer offer RT in the United States on DirecTV Satellite and U-Verse.

“Consistent with our previous agreement with RT America, we are accelerating the expiry date of this year’s contract and will no longer offer their programming effective immediately,” DirecTV said in a statement.

But some critics say tech companies could take stronger action against Russian disinformation and warn misleading content could appear elsewhere.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, RT acknowledged it was blocked by tech companies and encouraged people to see its content on another platform, Odysee.

“We are alive on Odysee’s free speech video platform, continuing to promote freedom over censorship, truth over narrative,” RT said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

Other entertainment companies are taking a stand by suspending the distribution of their content from Russia.

Walt Disney Co., Universal Pictures and Sony announced they would suspend theatrical releases in Russia, and Warner Bros. said he will not release his next film “The Batman” in Russia. Paramount Pictures said it will also suspend theatrical releases of upcoming films in Russia, including “The Lost City” and “Sonic the Hedgehog 2.”

The Motion Picture Assn. condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“On behalf of our member companies, who lead the film, television and streaming industry, we express our strongest support for Ukraine’s vibrant creative community which, like everyone else, deserves to live and work in peace,” the association said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the situation, working closely with our members and partners across the global creative sector.”

Times writers Meg James and Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.

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