Russia Restrains Twitter’s Speed And Sues Other Social Media over Illegal Content

The Russian Internet and telecom regulator Roskomnadzor announced on March 10 the first steps to disrupt Twitter’s speed within the country for failing to remove banned content. These measures are said to affect “100% of cellphones and 50% of personal computers” in the country, reports East-West Digital News (EWDN), bne IntelliNews reports.

“Starting March 10, 2021, centralized response measures have been taken against Twitter to protect Russian citizens and force the [social network] to comply with Russian legislation,” the regulator stated.

Some Russian Twitter users are already experiencing issues to access the platform, as reported on the service.

Roskomnadzor justifies these measures by the fact that, ”from 2017 up to the present time, Twitter did not remove content that incites minors to commit suicide, contains child pornography, as well as information about the use of narcotic drugs.” Twitter failed to delete 2,862 such posts during said period, the regulator specified in an earlier statement.

Roskomnadzor said it “sent Twitter more than 28,000 initial and repeat requests to remove [these] illegal links and publications” without a satisfactory result.

Roskomnadzor warned it had sufficient legal grounds to simply block Twitter as a further step, even though such a measure is “not being undertaken for the moment.”

Hot political context

The measure against Twitter might also be politically motivated. Over the past years, social networks and video hosting services — including Twitter as well as TikTok, YouTube, VK and Facebook — have demonstrated a growing ability to amplify the voices of Kremlin critics and their calls for protests.

Thus, earlier this year, Alexey Navalny’s killer video on “Putin’s palace” broke records on YouTube, ultimately generating more than 110mn views, while Russian teenagers ignited a digital rebellion via TikTok.

In relation with these events, the authorities are now suing Facebook, Google, TikTok, Telegram and Twitter for failing to delete posts, which allegedly urged minors to take part in illegal protests.

The authorities have also complained repeatedly that foreign platforms — in particular, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — “discriminate” official Russian media under pretenses of content moderation. For example, in June 2020, Twitter suspended more than 1,000 Russian accounts for alleged state-backed propaganda.

In response, Russia passed in late 2020 a bill against “censorship” of Russian media and other “illegitimate” restrictions to content distribution on the Internet.

Russian laws vs. tech Goliaths

In the past years, the authorities took a variety of other legal and technical measures to be in a capacity to block undesirable online resources, if need be — but this capacity remains to be demonstrated.

Thus, while Facebook and Twitter never fully proved their compliance with the Russian personal data legislation, which requires them to store user data on servers physically located in the country, they have been exposed so far only to extremely mild sanctions. Meanwhile, access to LinkedIn has been effectively blocked since 2016, following several court decisions.

In 2018, Roskomnadzor attempted to block access to instant messenger Telegram, following the latter’s refusal to provide access to its encryption keys to the Russian secret service FSB as required by law. Roskomnadzor’s attempt led to a two-year technical guerrilla with Pavel Durov, the Russian tech genius who founded Telegram and runs it from abroad. The regulator ultimately surrendered, announcing piteously in June last year the end of the restrictions on access to Telegram.

This failure has not stopped the authorities to prepare the country to be potentially cut off from the rest of the World Wide Web. In late 2019, a so-called sovereign Internet law came into force “to ensure the integrity, continuity, stability, resilience, and security of the functioning of the Internet’s Russian national segment.”