Imagine if everything that showed up on Google News had to go through Google(goog) first for fact-checking. That’s the situation that might arise in Russia, hitting foreign and local web giants, such as Yandex, alike.
Russia has tight media controls that include a requirement to make sure all print, broadcast and online news is true. The Kremlin imposed these rules on bloggers as well in 2014, and now lawmakers from communist and center-left parties are trying to bring news aggregators into the fold.
The bill, submitted to the Duma (Russia’s parliament) late February, would effectively say that news aggregators are the same as mass media operations.
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This would probably mean Google would have to shut down Google News in Russia, as mass media companies operating in the country must have no more than 20% foreign ownership (under another recent law).
But it would also cause major hassles for local companies running aggregators, such as Yandex and Mail.ru. These operations would become liable if they spread false information and state agencies complain about it.
According to local reports on Thursday, Yandex executive Ekaterina Fadeeva said it would be impossible for her company to comply with the new law.
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Fadeeva said the amount of news traffic pumping into an aggregator makes it impossible to pre-moderate everything. What’s more, Yandex argues that there is no way it can objectively assess the truthfulness of all the stories showing up in the aggregator — that’s the job of the journalists and editors publishing the stories.
“Yandex.News can’t exist in its current status if this bill will pass,” a Yandex spokesperson told Fortune.
Although the law would create a handy way of further restricting information flows, when the bill came out, the Russian communications ministry indicated it was not keen on the idea.
That said, the Kremlin has already been making life hard for big online players, particularly by mandating that they store users’ personal data on servers in Russia.