Russia Enlists Partners as It Polices the Internet ; Social Networks Agree to Remove Some Posts, but YouTube Pushes Back

By Kramer, Andrew E | International Herald Tribune, April 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

Russia Enlists Partners as It Polices the Internet ; Social Networks Agree to Remove Some Posts, but YouTube Pushes Back


Kramer, Andrew E, International Herald Tribune


Communications regulators have gotten Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to remove material that officials determined was objectionable, raising worries about censorship.

The Russian government in recent weeks has been making use of a new law that gives it the power to block Internet content that it deems illegal or harmful to children.

The Russian communications regulators have required Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to remove material that the officials determined was objectionable, with only YouTube, the video-sharing site owned by Google, resisting. YouTube complied with a Russian agency's order to block a video that officials said promoted suicide, but it filed a lawsuit in Russian court in February saying that the video, showing how to make a fake wound with makeup materials and a razor blade, had been intended for entertainment and should not be restricted.

Supporters of the law, which took effect in November, say it is a narrowly focused way of controlling child pornography and content that promotes drug use and suicide.

But opposition leaders have railed against the law as a crack in the doorway to broader Internet censorship. They say they worry that social networks, which have been used to arrange protests against the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, will be stifled.

The child protection law, they say, builds a system for government officials to demand that companies selectively block individual postings, so that contentious material can be removed without resorting to an overall nationwide ban on, for example, Facebook or YouTube, which would reflect poorly on Russia's image abroad and anger Internet users at home.

So far at least, the government has been mostly singling out not political content but genuinely distressing material posted by Russian-speaking users.

On Friday, Facebook took down a page globally that was connected to suicide after it had been flagged by the Russian regulatory agency, called the Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technology and Mass Communications, known by its acronym Roskomnadzor. A spokesman for the agency had told Facebook that it had until Sunday to comply or risk being blocked in Russia. …

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