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MOSCOW (Reuters) -A Moscow court on Monday rejected an appeal brought by Meta Platforms Inc after it was found guilty of "extremist activity" in Russia in March, the TASS news agency reported.
Russia restricted access to Meta's flagship platforms Facebook and Instagram, as well as fellow social network Twitter, in the wake of Moscow sending tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, a move critics have cast as an effort by Russia to exert greater control over information flows.
Back in March, Russia said its extremism ruling would not affect Meta's WhatsApp messenger service, focusing instead on Facebook and Instagram.
Meta did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. Lawyer Victoria Shakina in March told a court that Meta was not carrying out extremist activity and was against Russophobia.
Russia initially banned Facebook for restricting access to Russian media while Instagram was then targeted after Meta said it would allow social media users in Ukraine to post messages urging violence against Russian President Vladimir Putin and troops Moscow sent there.
Meta subsequently narrowed its guidance to prohibit calls for the death of a head of state and said its guidance should never be interpreted as condoning violence against Russians in general.
Russia has also objected to foreign platforms' treatment of its own media, some of which carry labels of being 'state-controlled'. State communications regulator Roskomnadzor has also regularly fined social media companies that fail to delete content Russia deems illegal.
A lawyer representing Meta on Monday told the court that refusing to block access to content and labelling state-controlled media were not activities that qualified as extremist, according to a Kommersant reporter in the courtroom.
Reuters could not independently verify that account and the lawyer could not immediately be reached.
The ruling caused some confusion in March because Meta's WhatsApp service remained available. Furthermore, prosecutors said that individuals would not be charged simply for using Meta's services, which are still accessible through virtual private networks (VPNs).
According to the ruling, when referring to Meta in the public sphere, organisations and individuals are required to include the disclaimer that Meta's activities are banned on Russian territory.
(Reporting by Reuters; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Bernadette Baum)