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‘This destroys my five years of hard work’ Meduza’s readers on how Russia’s Instagram ban affects their everyday lives
It’s been two days since Roskomnadzor blocked Instagram in Russia. The agency, which is in charge of telecommunications control and censorship, believes that the social network is filled with “calls to commit violent actions against Russian citizens and military personnel.” Russia’s Attorney General has called for Meta, Instagram’s parent company, to be blacklisted as an “extremist organization.” At present, the social network is still accessible through VPN, but no one knows if circumventing the block could lead to criminal charges. We asked Meduza readers about what Instagram has meant to them. Here are their answers.
Please note. This article was originally published in Russian on March 12, 2022 — before Russia’s Instagram ban entered into force.
Tattoo artist from Moscow
Instagram was my main professional page. I would post photos of my work, and this was how I got the majority of my clients. People also came to me through VKontakte, but far fewer. Instagram focuses on visual content, plus it was a lot better for advertising in general. I’m expecting to lose money — and to lose contact with people I’d already planned to work with and others who won’t be able to find me anymore.
Student from Astrakhan
My grandma is learning French. Her teachers live in France and run an Instagram page. Bloggers who specialize in France also have Instagram blogs. Without Instagram, my grandma won’t be able to see independent sources of information or study French. Yesterday, she wrote me that she was very sad that they are shutting down Instagram. She’s a modern lady, my grandma, she figured out how to install a VPN by herself. I hope that the ban won’t have too strong of an effect on her opinions or her desire to study French.
Works in the North
This might be an unpopular opinion and it might sound selfish. Personally, I don’t care about Instagram at all. What I do care about is increasing frequency of these bans. I feel bad for people who are going to lose income and something they like to do. For now, I’m not at all personally affected, but who knows what will happen tomorrow?
Marketing director from Vladivostok
The entire beauty world is on Instagram, from nail salons to makeup stores. Beautiful photos sell products and services, lifestyles and dreams. There are ten people on my team, five of them are Instagram content creators. On Monday, they will all lose their main source of income. I transferred all of our companies’ channels to Telegram, but Telegram’s all about long reads and texts, not beautiful photos. I don’t have any illusions: 90 percent of the audience we have spent years growing on Instagram will be lost forever.
Retiree from St. Petersburg
It’s not going to affect me personally. I’m not on Instagram. Because I don’t really understand social media. But my relatives and my daughter are on it. And it’s really too bad that they’re going to block it — and everything else they are blocking, it’s upsetting. I think that one day, Russia will be free!
Eleventh grader in Moscow
I don’t have an Instagram business. For me, it’s like a scrapbook. I don’t post selfies every day or go on there just to like pictures of my friends. I post pictures of things that are meaningful to me. Like the first time I ran a race, or learned to ski, going to the Sanduny Bathhouse, stuff like that. I post pictures of my dog. My Instagram has the most beautiful and important photos of my life.
Social media marketing specialist from Tatarstan
For four years, I’ve worked on (or rather, I used to work on) Instagram pages for small business and entrepreneurs that I’ve gotten close to: hairdressers, small coffeeshops, a beauty salon, a stylist. Last week, it became clear that targeted Instagram ads weren’t going to work in Russia anymore, even if you went around the ban, because VPNs don’t use your real geolocation. Up until the very last moment, I didn’t want to believe that they really were going to ban Instagram and that I would have to find new solutions for my clients on different social networks. I need to completely rebuild the companies’ public image, relearn their audiences and engagement. Switching to Telegram is useless for local projects, so yesterday, we were rushing to build new communities on VKontakte.
For me personally, blocking Instagram complete nullifies my seven years of work experience. I don’t trust VKontakte because they work too closely with pro-government forces. So I still don’t know if I’ll have my own personal page on there.
To be perfectly honest, what’s going on with people right now is unbearably painful. I can’t just do my job and pretend that it’s all going to be okay.
Glamping resort owner from St. Petersburg
We just recently launched our agrotourism resort in the Leningrad region. We invested a lot of money and our whole soul. In the three months since we’ve launched, we’ve managed to build up an incredible sales pipeline. Ninety-two percent of our clients came from Instagram. Our resort was completely booked, even on weekdays, even though it’s the low season right now.
When advertisements were blocked due to sanctions, there was a huge drop in reservations. But the account itself, which we’d invested over 1 million rubles in, continued to bring in clients. Now, we won’t get any [clients] at all, apparently. All of the Russian vacation rental R platforms — Ostrovok, RZhD Booking, VKontakte — are totally empty, they don’t even come close to the kind of circulation you get on Instagram. And there’s not a lot of hope that they ever will.
Tour guide from St. Petersburg
In 2016, I started running a St. Petersburg history blog on Instagram. Despite the fact that I’m older, 45, I mastered social media marketing, learned how to take good photos and write captions. I spent thousands of rubles on promoting the blog. Today, I have over 40,000 followers and a registered business, I give private tours. Despite the fact that I’ve had a website for several years, all of my clients come from Instagram. For me, the ban will mean losing my income. This destroys my five years of hard work.
Of course, my skills aren’t going anywhere. In the past few days, I’ve transferred over 3,000 followers to Telegram and VKontakte (thank you, followers), and I’m going to continue growing on there. But losing Instagram comes as a terrible blow to me.
Executive from Sochi
You know, I don’t care about Instagram at all. I was always annoyed that a ton of people are now comparing themselves to [reality star] Olga Buzova. So, I have mixed feelings about the ban. As a citizen, I believe that this impedes on people’s rights to free association. But as a person, I’m glad that people won’t be able to go on Instagram because maybe they’ll start reading more and spending less time looking at girls with fake lips. The fact that there’s going to be less pictures of food and other crap — that’s a plus. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if more people started to think for themselves. I think that reading actual books is a lot better than endlessly scrolling.
Mother on maternity leave from Vladivostok
Before my oldest daughter was born, we started an Instagram for our family pictures. It’s less annoying than constantly sending our relatives pictures of our kids. This brought me closer to my cousin, who I had barely talked to before. Having this low-pressure way to exchange photos got us more invested in one another, we started supporting each other. You’re not going to message everyone and say, “We’re at the hospital,” but you can put a picture with a caption up on your Stories, and suddenly, you’re chatting with your friends and relatives. This kind of spontaneous socializing was really helpful sometimes.
Photographer from Moscow
For the past ten years, I’ve worked with exotic animals: snakes, lizards, spiders. I study them, breed them, write articles about them, make educational and funny videos, I have a blog. Basically, I share the wonderful creatures I love with other people. I have dozens of snakes and dozens of other animals. My blog is my favorite thing to do and it’s how I make money. And it’s not just my money, my blog is how I feed my animals. For me, Instagram is my whole life, and the life of my many dependents. I don’t understand how I’m going to take care of them all without my blog. Right now, I’m trying not to think about it.
Project manager from Crimea
It doesn’t make me feel anything [Instagram being banned]. But maybe the people who care about Instagram are going to realize that the war is coming for everyone. People have been trying to hide their heads in the sand, thinking the war was somewhere far away, “I can’t do anything about it,” “I’m not interested in politics,” and so on. I may not have access to Instagram, but the people in Mariupol don’t have electricity, food, or medicine. Do I have the moral right to complain?
Teddy bear artist from St. Petersburg
I’m wheelchair-bound, it’s very hard for people like me to get jobs. Instagram transformed my entire life. I started taking teddy bear-making classes, found friends and allies, opened up my own story, and was able to not only share my artistic successes, but also make money. Now I am losing my sole source of income.
Journalist from Tyumen
I met a girl on Instagram who not only helped me get over my depression, but also became my reason for living. We’ve been messaging on and off for three years. Even though we’ve only met in person once, that’s enough to make me want to get out of bed every morning and move forward. I watch her stories, comment on her posts, she replies, and for me, at least for now, Nadezhda [“Hope” in Russian] still exists virtually, which means I have hope in my life. I don’t know what’s going to happen if they really ban Instagram [this interview was recorded before the block came into effect]. It will come as a serious blow to me. My motivation and willpower are decreasing everyday as it is, and now they’re going to take away my last source of it.
College student from Novosibirsk
Instagram has become a place where you can share personal things like hobbies, TV shows you like, and jokes. People would respond to them and follow you. For a long time, I didn’t have any friends in real life, and for me, these kinds of interactions —reactions to my stories or new topics of conversation — were really important to me when I was lonely. They’re important today, too. It was amazing to feel those connections. Just knowing that someone somewhere was looking at you and responding mutually.
Bank manager from Surgut
It’s very painful to me that hundreds of volunteers who save homeless animals are going to be left without this platform.
Programmer from Moscow
Knowing your outlet, I doubt that you’re going to publish this. But I’m going to try to write it down. I am 30 years old, a fairly active Instagram user. I used to post pictures of my travels and stay in touch with people from different countries. So for me, it was a relatively important place for socializing and getting the latest news. But after they published the change to their rules about expressing hatred for Russian troops, I’ve come to support the Instagram ban.
College student from St. Petersburg
I want to tell the story of my mother. She has had her business page on Instagram for six years, which she built herself from the ground up. For her, Instagram is her client base and a showroom, and a place for comments and reviews. In 2020, when all the exhibitions my mother designed for were canceled, we basically only survived because of that page. She invested a lot in it financially and, of course, physically. Yesterday, Mama cried all day long. She’s 50, learning to use a new social network is incredibly hard for her. She doesn’t understand what to press even though it’s supposed to be simple. She had 30,000 followers on Instagram, how is she supposed to transfer them over to Telegram or wherever else? I don’t understand why my 50-year-old mother has to go through something like this.
Marketing specialist from Angarsk
Yesterday, when I found out that Instagram was going to be banned, I cried. I had already downloaded my whole archive expecting it to happen, but I had kept hoping for the best. I cried because Instagram is an easy way to maintain relationships without bothering anyone (I’m alive, I’m well, it’s great!). And it’s where I make money. Because I’d been working on the idea of putting out a small blog for a year and as soon as it started coming together, they blocked the platform. Because they take everything from us. Absolutely everything, even our social network.
Co-owner of an animal shelter from Rostov-on-Don
For me personally, losing Instagram is a humanitarian crisis. My daughter and I have been rescuing stray animals for almost six years. We’ve worked with 961 cats and 143 dogs, a total of 1,104 animals. But there are still 93 cats and 29 dogs living with us in the house that we share with them. Almost half of them are elderly, chronically ill, disabled, “unadoptable.”
Instagram allowed us to find people to adopt our animals from all around the country. Our 14,000 followers also actively helped us maintain our shelter through their donations. These kinds of donations are a shelter’s lifeblood. They pay for high-quality food, support special diets for chronically ill animals, provide for the veterinary treatment of seriously ill animals, high-tech and complicated operations. We’re losing the helpers that we’ve spent six long years gathering.
I also work in advertising, and Instagram and Facebook had been among my main tools. Today, I’ve lost almost all of this work. What are we going to do now? What’s going to happen to our shelter? We don’t know.
Travel blogger from Moscow
My darling husband first saw me on Instagram in 2012, which changed my life in an instant. I transformed from your average college sophomore without a home or a tribe into a powerful, seductive traveler. But Instagram was only the beginning of our story. Three years later, I signed up for [influencer] Viktoria Bonya’s “dream marathon,” which I decided to try after randomly seeing a post about it in my feed. And you know what? I really liked it! I lost seven kilograms [15 pounds] and not only got my body back, but also the confidence of a 20-year-old college student. For me, the most terrible part of the Instagram ban is the fact that I’ll never know what I’ve lost. What little tendril of life will now fail to latch onto me? What important advice will I miss? Who will I never meet? But maybe, I’ll start reading more🤞
Teacher living in China
I’m writing from China, where they banned Instagram a long time ago. I am still very active on it. I followed a link from Telegram, which is also blocked. People who don’t rely on it for income can just keep using it through a VPN. All of that works here, even though the censorship and control over social media is a lot harsher here than it is in Russia.
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