Russia's ban on Western platforms, coupled with the slowdown in advertising spending due to the economic consequences of the conflict, threaten the growth prospects of the main social networks.
Since the beginning of March, the Russian authorities have prohibited their citizens from accessing the main Western social networks. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are banned in the country and others like TikTok continue their operations but in a limited way.
This veto is part of a broader offensive promoted by the Kremlin to combat "disinformation" and which includes penalties of up to 15 years in prison for anyone who steps out of the official line on the "special operation" in Ukraine marked by Moscow. .
The Russian blackout has dealt a heavy blow to these companies that have seen how in a matter of days they lost their access to an important market -Russia has a population of 144 million people- and also the collateral economic effects of the conflict have cooled the prospects of the digital advertising business.
"The war in Ukraine, which is a real tragedy on a humanitarian level, has also had an impact on our business. We were blocked in Russia and decided to stop accepting ads from Russian advertisers around the world. We have also seen effects on business through world level after the beginning of the war", explained at the end of April the CEO of Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, in a meeting with three analysts to present their latest quarterly results.
"We experienced a further slowdown in growth following the start of the Ukraine war due to lost revenue in Russia, as well as reduced advertising demand both within Europe and outside the region. We believe the war introduced further volatility in an already uncertain macroeconomic scenario for advertisers," added the network tycoon.
The latest results from Meta have already given some signs of a slowdown. Advertising, which accounts for 97% of the tech's revenue, grew just 6% between January and March, its slowest growth in a decade.
A recent analysis carried out by the market research company Insider Intelligence shows how the Russian blackout is affecting the main platforms very unevenly. In its latest forecast of social media users worldwide, the firm notes that TikTok and Instagram will take the biggest hit, while Facebook and Twitter will be virtually immune due to their little exposure in the country.
Of all the Western platforms, Instagram is by far the one with the largest user community in Russia. Until last February, when Vladimir Putin's troops began the invasion of Ukraine, the application had more than 64 million users in the country.
"Like social media users around the world, Russians have embraced Instagram's addictive ease of use and the ability to share experiences through images and videos on the platform," said Insider analyst Peter Newman. Intelligence.
Before the start of the conflict, from the analysis firm they expected the Instagram user community to grow by 5.8% in 2022, to 1,280 million. However, with usage in Russia now virtually zero, the analyst firm has lowered its expectations and expects it to rise just 1.6% to 1.27bn.
Although it is still operational in the country, TikTok is the other social network that is suffering the most from the consequences of the conflict, according to analysts. The popular video application of Chinese origin has not allowed uploading new videos from Russia since March 6 and blocks live broadcasts, in addition to preventing foreign publications so that Russian users do not see them. The result in practice is a kind of censored alternative version of the platform, leaving tens of millions of Russians on TikTok with no connection to the outside world. From the analysis firm they expect TikTok users to fall 23% this year in Russia, to 19.3 million.
This does not, however, prevent the social network from continuing its meteoric rise on a global level. The forecast is that its community will increase by 17.4% to reach 813 million users by the end of 2022. The speed with which TikTok is growing and closing the gap with its competitors is impressive. The app added its 1,000th user in 2021, four years after its global launch. This is half the time it took Facebook, YouTube or Instagram, and three years faster than WhatsApp.
"Strong growth in the rest of the world will offset losses in Russia, proving once again that there is little that can stifle the 'TikTok effect,'" Newman says.
At the opposite pole to Instagram and TikTok are Facebook and Twitter. Neither of the two social networks is very popular in Russia, so the loss of this market is not particularly harmful to their business. "Facebook has never been successful in Russia, as most consumers prefer a similar local service like VK," explains the Insider Intelligence analyst.
Facebook barely had 7.5 million users in the country in 2021. The forecast for this year at a global level is that its number of users will remain stable and that it will close 2020 at around 2,080 million. It is a slight reduction compared to previous estimates, but in large part it is due to the poor performance of markets other than Russia, they explain.
In February, Meta announced the first user drop in Facebook history. They were barely a million but it reflects a dangerous trend for the social network, which 18 years after its launch could be close to reaching its user ceiling as its use slows around the world.