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Bay Area Tech Giants Under International Pressure To Shut Down Russian Disinformation, Social Media

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- Russia's attack on Ukraine has Bay Area tech giants responding to increasing international pressure to take action against Russian disinformation and social media campaigns.

The latest major action came Monday afternoon, as Nick Clegg, Vice President of Global Affairs at Meta, tweeted, "We have received requests from a number of governments and the EU to take further steps in relation to Russian state controlled media. Given the exceptional nature of the current situation, we will be restricting access to RT and Sputnik across the EU at this time."

The public pressure is playing out in real time between high ranking government officials and top executives, often with the companies responding swiftly.

Hours after European Commissioners Vera Jourova and Thierry Breton spoke with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, both Google and YouTube demonetized Russian state-sponsored media channels, and would "significantly limit recommendations" to those channels.

Google Maps even stopped displaying live traffic data in order to protect fleeing refugees from detection.

On Friday, Ukraine's Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted a copy of a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook: "We need your support - in 2022, modern technology is perhaps the best answer to tanks, rocket launchers and missiles. I appeal to you…stop supplying Apple services and products to the Russian Federation, including blocking access to the App Store."

Cook was noncommittal, saying he was "deeply concerned" about the conflict.

Irina Raicu is an expert in Internet ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. She says companies are now compelled to act to be on the right side of business ethics, and that "standing on the sidelines" is no longer an option.

"I think there's been a general understanding that there's no such thing as neutrality," said Raicu. "I think they have come to understand that by merely allowing people to use the platform, they're already not standing on the sidelines. They are becoming conduits for certain messages and certain people and certain groups and therefore, they have a responsibility to either control the information or to actually cut off that access."

Tess Bridgeman, a lecturer at Berkeley Law who also served President Biden on the National Security Council, said the tech companies' actions will allow more accurate reporting of the invasion to be seen by a wider audience.

"Democracies rallying together to impose these kinds of costs on Russia, hopefully can be a form of strengthening our own democratic institutions and the unity of democratic governments in the face of rising authoritarianism," said Bridgeman.

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