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Facebook takes down social media pages of Ingush news site Fortanga

4 February 2022
Fortanga frontpage.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has blocked the accounts of Fortanga, the largest Ingush news site, allegedly for trademark infringement. 

Izabella Evloeva, editor-in-chief of Fortanga, told OC Media that they had managed to recover their Instagram account and Facebook group on Thursday morning, however, their Facebook page remains unavailable.

Immediately after losing the accounts, the outlet’s editor-in-chief also began receiving threats and attempts to extort money from an unknown Telegram user.

‘We have a large audience on social media — altogether more than 160,000 subscribers, but the biggest part of our audience is made up of Ingush and Caucasians on Instagram. Instagram was a big hit. I was constantly afraid of [an attack on the platform]’, said Evloeva. 

Fortanga was founded in 2018 in the wake of a controversial land deal between Ingushetia and Chechnya which handed vast swathes of Ingushetia’s territory to their eastern neighbour.

[Read more on OC Media: Chechen–Ingush land swap sparks protests in Ingushetia]

According to Evloeva, attempts to bring down the news outlet’s social media accounts began on 29 January, after which they were blocked due to a ‘trademark infringement’. 

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‘We were reported by someone who claimed to be the rightful owner of Fortanga, who said that it was his brand and that we were using it illegally, which is not true’.

According to Evloeva, almost immediately after Fortanga’s accounts were blocked, an unknown Telegram user under the username Make War attempted to extract money from them, threatening to take down their website.

Evloeva said the email address used to block the Facebook account matched the name of Hasan Khalitov, a Chechen government critic and blogger who resides in Turkey. 

However, she ruled out Khalitov’s involvement, suggesting that the address was nothing more than a diversionary tactic employed by those responsible for the threats.

‘We have many enemies, but the enemies are mostly those in power; that is, they could either be the Ingush or Chechen authorities. I think it was a cruel joke by whoever did this, to pit their enemies against each other’.

A spokesperson for Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, was not immediately available for comment.

Other activists targetted

A day before being locked out of Fortanga’s social media accounts, Evloeva said she and several other activists had received an identical  ‘attempted provocation’.

On 1 February, Evloeva reported that she had received messages from an unknown person named Nikolai, who offered her ‘valuable information’ about the kidnapping of blogger Adam Khamchiev, including videos allegedly taken during his interrogation.

The anonymous person asked Evloeva to transfer a sum of money to his card in exchange for the information.

The transaction never went through due to Evloeva’s suspicions, having previously been offered similar information by anonymous sources.

Nikolai blocked her immediately after she rejected his offer.

The next day Ingush activist Isropil Nalgiev reported that he had received an identical offer from a person also going by the name of Nikolai. 

Nalgiev inferred that he and Evloeva were targeted by an underhanded scheme to have them transfer money to accounts associated with extremists in order to criminally implicate them.

‘It will take years for the person disfavoured by the authorities to prove his innocence, but as a rule’, the activist said. ‘There are plenty of such cases now’.

Evloeva also suggested that outspoken critics and activists being contacted by the same anonymous sources were ‘somehow connected’, claiming that similar tactics had been used against activists in Crimea.

‘This could be a scam, but I also assume that given the circles to which these people are turning, perhaps this is some kind of centralised action.’

Fortanga has been threatened with closure and restrictions by the federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor  more than once.

In October 2021, Fortanga was ordered by the Roskomnadzor to take down material about the border agreement between Ingushetia in Chechnya, threatening to block the news outlet should they refuse.

According to Roskomnadzor, the material contained ‘calls for mass riots, extremist activities, participation in mass events held in violation of the established procedure, information materials of organisations whose activities have been recognised as undesirable, unreliable socially significant information disseminated under the guise of reliable messages’. 

The material has since been removed.