Russia Amps Up Demands, Threatens to Throttle Social Media

Russia’s Internet regulator, Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media), has increased demands that Facebook, Google and Twitter remove “illegal” content and restore blocked pro-Kremlin content or face restrictions. Since anti-Kremlin protesters used the platforms more recently, Roskomnadzor has upped the frequency of its demands. This week it told Google to block “thousands of pieces of illegal content” or risk throttling. A Russian court also fined Google six million rubles ($81,000) for not removing another piece of content.

The New York Times reports that “on Wednesday, the government ordered Facebook and Twitter to store all data on Russian users within the country by July 1 or face fines.” After Twitter did not take down content deemed illegal, Russian authorities “made it harder for people to see and send posts on Twitter.” Since then, Twitter has removed about 6,000 posts “to comply with the orders, according to Roskomnadzor.”

Government efforts to censor the Internet have also impacted Twitter in India, and leaders in Myanmar, Poland, Turkey and other countries are also “tightening Internet controls.”

President Aleksandr Lukashenko in Belarus signed a law “banning live streams from unauthorized protests.” But the Russian efforts to censor the platforms “has important ramifications because the Internet companies have been seen as shields from government censors.” Russia’s actions also represent “a major shift in the country, where the Internet, unlike television, had largely remained open despite President Vladimir Putin’s tight grip on society.”

At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Internet censorship expert Jillian York noted that, “all of these policies will have the effect of creating a fractured Internet, where people have different access to different content.”

As an increasing number of Russians use the Internet to protest Putin, officials are following in the steps of China’s Great Firewall and vowed to create a “sovereign Internet” that would “block access to certain websites and fence off parts of the Russian Internet from the rest of the world.”

Princeton University researcher Sergey Sanovich noted that, “what is happening in Russia foreshadows an emerging global trend when censorship becomes but one tool in the ultimate battle for writing the rules that major tech platforms have to follow.”

Reuters reports the Kremlin also announced that, “foreign technology companies will be forced to open offices in Russia or face penalties such as advertising bans under draft legislation.”

At the State Duma, the country’s lower house of parliament, the head of information policy and IT committee said that, “the draft legislation would be submitted as soon as possible to combat what he described as IT giants abusing their monopoly positions and distributing content banned in Russia” and would be applied to any such “information resources with a daily audience in Russia of at least 500,000 people.”

Russia Is Still the Biggest Player in Disinformation, Facebook Says, The Washington Post, 5/26/21
Twitter Calls on Indian Government to Respect Free Speech, The New York Times, 5/27/21

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