Russia slows down Twitter amid clashes between government and social media

The standoff between Russia and the internet giants gained a new episode on Wednesday (10) after a statement by the country’s media regulator announcing the reduction in the operating speed of Twitter in retaliation for alleged content removal failures prohibited.

“We have adopted centralized response measures against Twitter, effectively reducing the speed of the service,” said Roskomnadzor, who has the power to block sites in Russia, adding that the slowdown will be applied to 100% of mobile devices and to 50 % of non-users.

“If Twitter continues to ignore the requirements of the law, responses will continue to comply with the rules and may go as far as blocking,” continued the regulator.

In recent weeks, the Kremlin has toughened its rhetoric against social media by demanding that platforms exclude posts calling on people to take to the streets in protest against Vladimir Putin’s government.

In his speech at the Davos Economic Forum in January, the Russian president said the internet giants “are already really competing with states” and referred to what he sees as his “brutal attempts to control the internet. society”.

The Russian authorities also considered it a violation of the law that Facebook blocked the sharing of certain content from state vehicles and news agencies.

The decision to target Twitter concerns a different type of post, however. Roskomnadzor said he identified at least 3,000 posts on the platform with illegal content, including child pornography, drug use apologies and incitement to suicide.

As of Wednesday morning, Twitter did not publicly comment on the decision. According to the Russian regulatory agency, the company has repeatedly refused to exclude publications on request.

A Roskomnadzor official quoted by the Interfax news agency said other social networks could face the same penalty, for reduced operating speed, if they break Russian laws.

Last weekend, the regulator threatened to fine Facebook 1 million rubles (R $ 78,000) if the platform did not restore access to content published by the Tass news agency and newspapers Russian RBC and Vzglad.

According to media reports, the company has blocked publications related to the arrest by Russian authorities of suspected supporters of a Ukrainian far-right group. Facebook denies removing such content.

“I think this is unacceptable. It violates our national legislation,” said Viacheslav Volodin, president of the Russian Chamber of Deputies and member of Putin’s same party. He added that Facebook continues to violate basic rights to broadcast and receive information, and that it will propose new legislation to preserve Russia’s “digital sovereignty”.

In December, Russian lawmakers passed bills allowing the country to impose heavy fines on platforms that do not exclude content considered banned. The texts also provide for restrictions on access to American social media companies whose practices are considered to discriminate against Russian media.

This Tuesday (9), five platforms were processed by the regulatory authorities. Twitter, Google, Facebook, TikTok and Telegram will respond in court for allegedly refusing to remove posts that would encourage children to participate in protests against the arrest of Russian opponent Alexei Navalni.

Representatives of the companies will be heard in a Russian court next month, and the penalties for each are fines of up to 4 million rubles (R $ 312.6 thousand) – a negligible amount compared to the profits. worlds of these giants. from the Internet.

Moscow has gradually introduced stricter internet laws in recent years, forcing search engines to exclude certain search results, for email services to share encrypted content with security agencies, and for platforms to store user data. on servers located in Russia.

The measures have raised fears that navigation restrictions will reach a level similar to what is seen in China, but in practice the actions have not been successful.

In 2018, for example, Russia attempted to ban the use of Telegram on its territory due to the platform’s refusal to share with authorities the resources necessary to read users’ messages. Two years later, the blockade proved ineffective for technical reasons and Moscow lifted the ban.

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