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Russian bloggers bid farewell to Instagram in tears

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Russians were savoring their final moments browsing Instagram on Sunday, while bloggers and small businesses that rely heavily on the platform scrambled to attract followers elsewhere online.

Moscow announced this week that access to the social network would cease, accusing Meta, the parent company of Instagram, of turning a blind eye to calls for violence against Russians.

In a farewell post, reality TV star Olga Buzova – who has racked up Russia’s second-biggest audience with 23 million followers – was desperate and in disbelief.

“Right now I’m writing this post and crying,” she wrote, annotating the text with a crying emoji. “I hope that’s not true.”

Fashion blogger Karina Nigay, who meanwhile has nearly 3 million followers, was still processing the fact of the impending ban.

“I’m in a state of resentment and far from a state of acceptance,” she said.

The move is part of President Vladimir Putin’s long-running effort to control what Russians can and cannot access on the internet.

These efforts have accelerated at a dizzying pace since he announced Russia’s extensive military incursion into Ukraine and as authorities scramble to control how the conflict is perceived at home.

Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor said this week that Instagram was being taken down for allowing posts inciting violence against Russians.

But the official Gosuslugi website, which hosts government services, said Instagram would be taken down from March 14, citing Russians’ “psychological health” and efforts to protect children from “bullying and name-calling”.

Gosuslugi also recommended Russians return to local platforms that were abandoned as Instagram and Faceook’s popularity skyrocketed.

“We will live without”

Many bloggers said on Instagram that they would turn to VK, the Russian equivalent of Facebook.

Among Russian social media platforms, it is the closest to Instagram in its functionality, but has also been accused of approaching authorities.

Russians have also turned to Telegram, an already hugely popular network in Russia and former Soviet countries, which Moscow tried – and ultimately failed – to block several years ago.

The app was created to be a messaging service, but also hosts channels where users can post photos and videos along with texts.

41-year-old painter Alexei Garkusha told AFP in Saint Petersburg that he would be among those who turn to Telegram.

It’s “more interesting,” he said, sounding less concerned about Instagram’s fate.

“If they close it, they close it!” Garkusha shrugged.

In farewell messages, bloggers lamented the need to rebuild their followers and their businesses, at a time when the economy is struggling under Western sanctions.

“Many, ironically, say bloggers will finally overcome their addiction to easy money,” said Alexandra Mitroshina, a popular user known for teaching others how to monetize their followers.

“But don’t forget that half of our small and medium businesses are linked to Instagram and Whatsapp,” she told her 2 million followers.

For many Russian small businesses, Instagram was a primary platform for advertising, sales processing, and communicating with customers.

But former reality TV star Buzova was among those who thought her work could continue on other platforms and urged subscribers to join her on VK.

“Of course it will be difficult and unusual but we are strong together,” she wrote.

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said the platform has 80 million users in Russia.

On the streets of Russia’s former imperial capital, St. Petersburg, some people said the ban was a shame, but not the end of the world.

“I don’t think anything catastrophic globally is happening,” said 31-year-old Yelena Teleginskaya.

Others were delighted to see the back, like engineer Nikolay Yeremenko, 45.

“If they shut it down, it’s for the best. We’ll live without it.”