The Russian government is taking a hardline stance with several major social media and online information networks, ramping up demands to remove any content that it deems illegal. 

Roskomnadzor, the national agency for internet regulation, demands that Facebook, Google, and Twitter comply with orders regulating content permissible online. Otherwise, these Silicon Valley giants stand to face hefty fines or have access to their products throttled.

Of late, these networks have been facing Russia’s demands almost weekly. This is primarily due to how Google, Twitter, and Facebook have been used to incite and organize anti-Kremlin protests since January.

Crackdowns and penalties

Last May 24th, the Roskomnadzor ordered Google to block thousands of what it perceived as illegal content; otherwise, the government would slow public access to the platform’s services. On the 25th, Google was also fined the local equivalent of $81,000 for failing to remove a piece of subversive content.

Facebook and Twitter have also borne the brunt of government regulators’ ire. On May 26, both social media platforms were ordered to store all information on and from Russian users in local data centers by July first of this year or face fines and throttled services.

In March of this year, Russian Twitter users had difficulty accessing content on the platform due to government restrictions. This occurred in the wake of Twitter’s refusal to remove content antagonistic to the Russian government. Since then, the social media network has removed almost 6,000 posts in compliance with government demands. 

Roskomnadzor made similar demands of Facebook and has also threatened serious penalties against the social media giant.

A growing wave of government censorship

Russia is not the only country that is slapping heavy fines against major social networks and media platforms with regard to illegal and subversive content. Governments around the world have been testing the waters to see if there are limits to online censorship as a means to suppress dissent and remain in power.

The military junta in Myanmar has all but shuttered social media within its borders in a bid to suppress pro-democracy protests. Likewise, Belarus’ president Aleksandr G. Lukashenko signed a law in late May 2021 banning live streams from illegal demonstrations. Similar actions have also been noted in Poland and Turkey. 

Meanwhile, the police ostensibly visited Twitter’s India offices to express government displeasure that the platform aided and abetted its more vocal critics regarding its handling of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

According to internet censorship experts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation in Germany, these suppressive policies will have an adverse impact on the internet as a whole. Severe regulation is expected to create what expert Jillian York refers to as “a fractured internet” wherein there are different levels of access to various kinds of content.

For some critics, these acts of regulation and censorship are a form of propaganda. In muzzling social media networks, the Russian government is portraying social media networks as a way by which foreign entities can meddle in local affairs.

Russian officials have gone so far to accuse Twitter in particular of blocking pro-government accounts while supporting dissenters and critics. Russia has also accused various social networks of promoting illegal activities such as human trafficking and child prostitution.

In related news, Russia has also called upon Google to lift restrictions on content from several state-run media outlets. Google is also currently under investigation by Russian antitrust officials regarding blocking policies for deploying material through its media arm, YouTube.