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Russia threatens to block Twitter in stand-off over banned content

The state communications watchdog said Twitter has failed to remove more than 3,000 posts with banned content.


(Niall Carson/PA)

(Niall Carson/PA)

(Niall Carson/PA)

Russian authorities have said they will block Twitter in a month if it does not take steps to remove banned content, escalating Moscow’s drawn-out stand-off with social media platforms that have played a major role in amplifying dissent in Russia.

The state communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, last week announced it was slowing down the speed of uploading photos and videos to Twitter over its alleged failure to remove content encouraging suicide among children and information about drugs and child abuse images.

The agency said Twitter has failed to remove more than 3,000 posts with banned content, including more than 2,500 encouraging suicide among minors.

The platform responded by emphasising its policy of zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation, promotion of suicide and drug sales.

Twitter doesn't react to our requests appropriatelyVadim Subbotin

On Tuesday, the deputy chief of Roskomnadzor, Vadim Subbotin, argued that Twitter was still not complying with the demands of the Russian authorities.

“Twitter doesn’t react to our requests appropriately, and if things go on like this, then in a month it will be blocked, on an out-of-court basis,” Mr Subbotin told the Interfax news agency, adding that Roskomnadzor at this point “is not registering specific steps by Twitter to remove prohibited content”.

Authorities have criticised social media platforms that have been used to bring tens of thousands of people into the streets across Russia this year to demand the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The wave of demonstrations was the largest in years and posed a major challenge to the Kremlin.

The authorities alleged social media platforms failed to remove calls for children to join the protests. President Vladimir Putin has urged police to act more to monitor social platforms and to track down those who “draw the children into illegal and unsanctioned street actions”.


Alexei Navalny (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Alexei Navalny (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Alexei Navalny (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

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The government’s efforts to tighten control of the internet and social media date back to 2012, when a law allowing authorities to blacklist and block certain online content was adopted. Since then, a growing number of restrictions targeting messaging apps, websites and social media platforms have been introduced.

In 2014, authorities adopted a law requiring online services to store the personal data of Russian users on servers in Russia and have since tried to make Facebook and Twitter comply with it.

Both companies have been repeatedly fined, first small amounts worth around £35 and last year the equivalent of £45,000 each, for not complying.

The government has repeatedly aired threats to block the two social media giants, but stopped short of outright bans even though the law allows it, probably fearing the move would elicit too much public outrage.

Only the social network LinkedIn, which was not very popular in Russia, has been banned by authorities for a failure to store user data in Russia.

However, some experts have said the authorities might be seriously considering bans this time around.

Mr Subbotin said Roskomnadzor has the “technical capabilities” to block Twitter, and that the agency does not rule out slowing down or blocking other online platforms if they “violate Russian laws and don’t comply with Roskomnadzor’s demands”.

In 2018, Roskomnadzor failed to restrict access to the popular messaging app Telegram over its refusal to hand over encryption keys used to scramble messages.

Last year, the watchdog officially withdrew the demands to block Telegram, which has been widely used despite the ban, including by government institutions.

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