Russia Works With Social Sites To Selectively Block Posts
April 1, 2013

Russia Works With Facebook, Twitter, YouTube To Block Certain Content

Enid Burns for — Your Universe Online

The Russian government is trying a new tactic for censoring certain content on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, rather than just blocking the whole site. Some sites are complying, while others are filing suit.

A new law enacted in November by the Russian government gives them the formal legal authority to block Internet content that it deems illegal or harmful to children, the New York Times reports. The government has used the new law to go after Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, among others, charging the sites to take down individual posts, videos and content. YouTube, which is owned by Google, is the only site listed in the article that has refused to block most of the requested content.

YouTube filed a lawsuit in Russian court in February. The suit claims that a video that demonstrates how to make a fake wound with makeup and a razor blade is intended for entertainment, and YouTube does not believe the video should be blocked. Meanwhile, the video-sharing site did comply with the request under the new law to block one video, agreeing with Russian officials that the video promoted suicide.

The Russian law "is a narrowly focused way of controlling the child pornography and content that promotes drug use and suicide," say supporters of the law. The law helps the Russian Government put some controls on social networking sites without blocking sites like Facebook and YouTube completely. If sites were blocked or banned countrywide, it would have bad connotations both at home and abroad. It "would reflect poorly on Russia's image abroad and anger internet users at home," the article says.

Some leaders in Russia oppose the law entirely. Opposition leaders argue that the law is "a crack in the doorway to broader internet censorship. They say they would worry that social networks, which have been used to arrange protests against President Vladimir V. Putin, which will be stifled."

In some cases the Russian law is calling to light content and posts that do not comply with the policies of some social sites. On Friday Facebook  took down a page that was connected to suicide. The page was removed globally, not just within Russia. Facebook was notified by the Russian regulatory agency, the Federal Service for Supervision in Telecommunications, Information Technology and Mass Communications, known within Russia as Roskomnadzor. The flagged site, created by a group called Club Suicide, didn't comply with Facebook's criteria for "controversial humor," and was blocked entirely.

A second Russian agency, Rospotrebnadzor, a consumer-protection organization similar to the FDA, has also flagged posts and content it deems questionable under the new law. One particular Facebook post promoted suicide, "and was thus a public health threat," the New York Times article stated.

Twitter has since removed a number of posts as well. Last month it removed two posts that they agreed appeared to be related to an attempt to deal in illegal drugs, and three posts that the Russian Government requested removed because they "Promoted suicidal thoughts."