- Facebook, Instagram, the BBC, and many other sites are blocked by the Russian state and Russian ISPs.
- Russians who try and access these sites from Russia without a VPN will run into error messages.
- This is the “splinternet” in action.
Truth, as the saying goes, is the first casualty of war.
Eight days after Russia invaded Ukraine, its communications agency Roskomnadzor cut off access to foreign news sites including the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Voice of America. It also banned Facebook, which chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg attributed to the firm’s fact-checks of Russian state media posts.
Roskomnadzor went on to ban Instagram for the country’s 80 million users, sending shockwaves across Russia’s influencer industry. Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office asked a court to designate Meta, which owns Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, as an extremist organization.
This is a real-time example of the so-called “splinternet,” said Andrew Sullivan, president of the Internet Society nonprofit group.
Russia’s bans mark “the splintering of the internet along geographical, political, commercial, and/or technological boundaries” he said, and are “the antithesis of how the internet was designed and meant to function.”
Russia’s internet was not totally free before the invasion. LinkedIn is banned, and TikTok was already censored. But state censorship has escalated with the war, as the Kremlin attempts to hide the fact that the war hasn’t so far gone as planned from Russia’s estimated 122 million internet users.
WhatsApp is still working in the country. After YouTube, the messaging service is the most widely used social media site in the country: over 65% of Russian internet users are active on the platform monthly, according to data from eMarketer.
To see what the internet looks like for users inside Russia, Insider tracked the DNS rejections of various Russian ISPs, using the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) explorer. Insider worked with OONI’s researchers as well as analysts at Top10VPN who were able to take a look at what the BBC news site looks like in Russia using the Astrill Virtual Private Network (
Russia censors websites in different ways according to OONI, issuing a list of sites to internet providers to block themselves or throttling services “in a centralized way.” In practice, Russians can circumvent blocks through VPNs, meaning censorship will be piecemeal.
Here’s how Russia’s internet will look for those without a VPN: