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Russian Photo-Sharing App Set to Launch Following Instagram Shutdown

Russian users of the popular photo-sharing app Instagram are getting a homegrown alternative following the government’s crackdown on foreign social media outlets. Reports emerged over the last few days that programmers in the country, currently smarting from tech restrictions and global corporate boycotts over its invasion of Ukraine, have been developing a new app, Rossgram. It is set to launch on 28 March 2022, according to the company's website.

Rossgram screenshot website

Reuters says that Rossgram will have most of the features Russian Instagram users are familiar with. However, since the app will not have the same financial backing as Meta’s photo-sharing application, it will have additional features including a crowdfunding mechanism and a paid premium service to raise funds for its development. A screenshot of the app was shared on VKontakt, a homegrown Russian social media platform that is similar to Facebook.

Earlier this March, Russia’s communications regulator banned Instagram, with users reporting the app’s non-availability on 14 March 2022. This followed a row with parent company Meta over its policy concerning posts calling for the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin (among others). Instagram has been an alternative source of information for Russians during the conflict with Ukraine, with many independent news sources increasingly being taken out of circulation by the government.

As Russia ramps up its efforts to convince citizens of the necessity of the “special operation” in Ukraine, concerned Russian social media users have turned to platforms such as messaging app Telegram and the Clubhouse audio community app for ways to obtain information on the conflict and local opposition to it. Telegram has been a headache for Russian authorities as it was a secure and private way for opponents of Vladimir Putin's regime to organize themselves. An attempt to ban the app led to massive protests in 2011, among the largest since Putin assumed power.

Telegram app in Russian
Credit: Christian Wiediger/Unsplash

The crackdown has not been limited to Instagram, though, as all major foreign social media platforms have either been banned or limited in operation by the Russian government. These include the short video sharing app TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese tech company, and Twitter, which has often carried instant “on the ground” reporting from Russia and Ukraine from different sources. Social media platforms have often been where “fake news” and government propaganda clash with legitimate news outlets in a battle of influence over users.

The photo-sharing app Instagram was launched in October 2010 by American developers Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Its sudden surge of popularity all over the world since its launch caught the attention of social media giant Facebook, which bought the platform in April 2012 for US$1 billion. It gives users the ability to share photographs and other images, including memes and infographics.

Instagram users can share these images using filters and other tools, like, comment on and share others’ posts and follow other users to see their posts on a personal feed. A popular feature allows users to post Stories others can view for 24 hours, a feature borrowed from competitor app Snapchat. Also, users can stream live video and post short video vignettes, the latter a response to the growing TikTok phenomenon.

  • Russian developers are launching Rossgram, an alternative app to photo-sharing app Instagram, on 28 March 2022, following Instagram’s ban by the Russian government.

  • The Rossgram app will feature crowdfunding and premium paid content to support its development and operations.

  • Russian Instagram users have taken to Telegram and Clubhouse in response to the ban, seeking independent sources of information and community during the Russia-Ukraine war.

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