Facebook bans Russia's RT ahead of Trump's Inauguration Day (then changes its mind)

Breaking news, literally

Facebook apparently blocked Russia Today – the Kremlin-bankrolled broadcaster now known as RT – from posting anything other than text messages on the social network.

On Wednesday, RT said Facebook had instituted the ban as the station was live-casting President Obama's final press conference. The channel said any articles, videos or GIFs were blocked and that the ban would stay in place until late on Saturday – a day after the installation of Donald Trump as America's 45th president.

"We were blocked while livestreaming Obama's final press-conference," RT said on Facebook. "Such things happen because (for example) some other news media livestreams carry the same shots and feed, and Facebook considers this a copyright violation."

Given the brouhaha over Russia's alleged influence over the US election, leading to Trump's victory, the ban seemed all too convenient to outraged Russian journalists. RT believed it was a deliberate act. "If the Department of State could block oxygen to us, they would do it," said RT's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan.

Meanwhile, the head of the state communication regulator Roskomnadzor, Alexander Zharov, said the move could lead to US media operations in Russia suffering "active countermeasures."

Politicians also got involved. Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the ban was unacceptable and that the ministry was getting in contact with Facebook to find out why RT had been banned from broadcasting the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, which takes place on Friday.

This may have had an effect. On Thursday, RT said Facebook had been in touch and had lifted the ban. The station celebrated with a funky little video featuring President Obama and cartoon oddball SpongeBob SquarePants.

"Facebook has restored RT's ability to post content to its page on the social network, following an as-yet-unexplained blackout that lasted for some 20 hours," the station said.

Whether or not the ban was over a copyright kerfuffle, the Kafkaesque stone-walling is not a great look for a social network that's used by more than a billion people and wields unprecedented power over the media and populations. Facebook declined to comment when poked by El Reg last night. ®

PS: Read El Reg's Drew Cullen on Facebook's influence on the media over here in a super Press Gazette interview.

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