Twitter acquiesces to Russia’s content-blocking while Google battles it in court

The Russian government is making headway in persuading some of the world’s leading Internet players to block content that it has labeled as illegal. Roskomnadzor, a federal agency that oversees telecoms, IT, and mass communications, announced last Friday that it has come to an understanding on the matter with Twitter.

In the first three weeks of March, Twitter blocked Russian access to five tweet streams, or Twitter accounts, which have been defined by experts as popularizing drugs, both possession and dealing, and propagandizing suicidal sentiments, the government watchdog said. The content can still be accessed from foreign IP addresses, however.

Roskomnadzor underscored it was pleased with the cooperativeness Twitter has demonstrated in “developing a mutually acceptable formula of interaction” for pursuing the common cause.

More than a year ago, Twitter’s corporate policy announced it may cooperate with the authorities of countries where Twitter establishes a new presence, should those countries have legitimate legislation banning certain types of content.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for Roskomnadzor told the Russian business daily Kommersant that, “We [will] negotiate with any sizable resource, whether it is domestic or foreign.” The blogging platform LiveJournal Russia is a homegrown example of a major Internet player that has been steadily talked by the Russian government into censoring “bad stuff,” or unacceptable content.

In the wake of unsettling exchanges with the government, Ilya Dronov, LiveJournal Russia’s top manager, agreed in his January posting to block what LiveJournal (LJ) considers legitimate to avert “across-the-board LJ Russia blocking” by Roskomnadzor.

Google vs. Russia

Not all the Internet’s major players, however, are willing to simply stand at attention as Russia demands purges of their content.

Google’s YouTube, for one, has opted to bring a lawsuit against Rospotrebnadzor, another government regulator that oversees the national consumer markets, over a video lesson on makeup application that the Russian regulator has construed to be “a suicide instruction,” the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

A preliminary hearing was held last Friday. The Russian agency claims there’s a bevy of websites which directly or obliquely push people toward suicidal behavior and “40%” of such found content “was on YouTube.”

A controversial legislation

In their content-blocking crusade, the Russian authorities launched an online banned web content register last November, in line with a federal law passed to “protect children against detrimental information,” and to crack down on online “extremism.”

Placed under Roskomnadzor’s supervision, the register currently contains almost 4,300 entries with child pornography, promotion of drug use, and otherwise harmful content aimed at minors.

The register came under fire soon after its launch, with critics chiding its administrator over lack of transparency and inefficiency in pinning down elusive perpetrators that easily resurface by changing IP addresses. Politically motivated access-blocking, which was put on a fast track by Russia’s new heavy-handed legislation, has also been criticized.

First published in East-West Digital News

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