Roskomnadzor vs PornHub: Russians stand firm on their right to porn

Since the ruling to block PornHub in Russia on Sept. 8 the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, has become mired in a series of sometimes surreal Twitter exchanges – and not only with the defenders of porn, but also with PornHub itself.

Since the ruling to block PornHub in Russia on Sept. 8 the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, has become mired in a series of sometimes surreal Twitter exchanges – and not only with the defenders of porn, but also with PornHub itself.

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As a form of protest against the blocking in Russia of the largest porn-hosting website PornHub, Russian Facebook users are narrating porn movies on camera, generating memes, mocking the state regulator and searching for the right words to talk about sex.

Russia’s online community has reacted to the decision by Russian internet watchdog Roskomnadzor to block domestic access to the world's largest porn-hosting websites PornHub and YouPorn by launching a satirical video campaign, mocking the regulator on social networks and creating various humorous memes.

Since the ruling on Sept. 8 the watchdog, whose officially title is the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, has become mired in a series of sometimes surreal Twitter exchanges – and not only with the defenders of porn, but also with PornHub itself.

One of the most prominent protests has been a Facebook campaign with the hashtag #rospornobzor ("Russian porn review"). Speaking in a flat, detached voice, like TV announcers, the participants retell porn movies that they watch on their devices. Detailed descriptions of the shooting angle, the interior and the action itself are in fact a protest against hypocrisy, they explain.

‘Unblock’ yourself

"One of his legs is sort of, so to say ... a lever. No, not the lever. In general, one leg is rested on the bed to strengthen the action. ... And, going back to the way she looks ... probably like Ariana Grande. No. Like a friend of Ariana Grande" – this is how, choosing his words, Daniil Trabun, the former chief editor of Afisha magazine and now the digital director of Esquire Russia, narrates a porn movie on video.

The #rospornobzor flash mob has also become a kind of vocabulary test for describing sex. Trabun, the initiator of the campaign, and his followers – mostly people from the journalistic community – have tried, as they say, to “unblock” themselves. The instructions are simple: Participants choose a porn video, comment on it on a video camera and “train” their openness.

According to those behind the campaign, the fact that the watchdog’s fight against pornography has reached the point where it is banning hosting websites – i.e. specialized spaces for such content – amounts to state enforcement of bigotry and conservatism. There is no neutral vocabulary for talking about sex, there is no debate, while Russia's most popular social network Vkontakte, has long been, in fact, a major porn network as well, but it is not banned.

"Unhealthy duality... So we came up with #rospornobzor," Trabun explained.

However, not everybody is convinced that the stunts have anything serious to contribute to discussion of Russia’s sexual mores.

"I do not really understand why retelling porn videos with the tag #rospornobzor is being announced as a conversation about sex, if it's a conversation about pornography," wrote sex blogger Tatyana Nikonova.

‘Not in the market’

In reality, Roskomnadzor has waged a protracted struggle against pornography on VKontakte for several years, now and then threatening to put it on the list of banned sites as a hotbed of child pornography. However, on every occasion the social network's management has cleaned up its pages without waiting for the worst outcome.

In fact, porn can still be found there by simply selecting the "Unrestricted" checkbox. On Sept. 17, VKontakte changed the color of this notorious checkbox to those of the banned hosting website – either to suggest that the regulator's attempts to eradicate pornography were akin to tilting at windmills, or in support of PornHub.

The porn site's administration commented on the situation in a tweet: "@roscomnadzor if we give you guys a Pornhub Premium account, will you unblock Pornhub in Russia?"

"@Pornhub sorry, we are not in the market and the demography is not a commodity," Roskomnadzor replied, and then added that unblocking would only be possible after a complete change in the site's "repertoire."

@roscomnadzor@Pornhub's data also shows Russia clearly IS in the market. You're just removing Russians' choice, claiming to speak for them,” replied user Russia Without BS.

‘Thousands of hands are already itching in bewilderment’

As it has done since 2015, when it blacklisted more than 100 adult sites by a court decision, Roskomnadzor has also engaged users of the social network in discussion, displaying a surprising sense of humor at times.

In response to one user’s request that the regulator suggest an alternative, Roskomnadzor wrote (in Russian): "Dear Lyolya, as an alternative, you can meet someone in real life."

«@roscomnadzor Do you propose to do to Lyolya everything that was on the hub?" wrote another user ironically in reponse.

"Roskomnadzor will block PornHub. Thousands of hands are already itching in bewilderment," wrote @ludi_vokrug (in Russian).

Another Twitter user recalled how people lived in the days before the internet, "Judging by the recent bans on porn sites, I expect the return of the once popular tents selling porn on DVD and cassette," they wrote (in Russian).

Some even saw government policy behind the decision to block the porn site:

"Import substitution, in fact, applies to PornHub, too," wrote user @LevSharansky.

In 2015, Russians were in 11th place among PornHub visitors (the site registered the most visits from users in the United States).

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