Facebook and Twitter could face Russian ban again—this time for calling out Russia’s state-affiliated media

November 19, 2020, 11:25 AM UTC

Russian lawmakers are fed up with American social media platforms labeling Russian state-affiliated outlets as Russian state-affiliated outlets.

In recent years, Facebook and Twitter enraged outlets such as Sputnik and RT by removing some of their pages for “inauthentic behavior” and cutting their advertising after U.S. intelligence said they had tried to interfere with the 2016 election. The platforms have also recently started alerting users to the fact that the outlets’ and their staffers’ accounts are linked to the Russian state.

Both RT and Sputnik grumbled that they and some Chinese outlets were being treated unfairly. They noted that the same labels were not being applied to Western public broadcasters such as the U.K.’s BBC and the U.S.’s NPR.

On Thursday, lawmakers from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party took up their cudgel on behalf of their state-affiliated media, proposing draft legislation that would allow the blockage of the U.S. social media platforms for discriminating against Russian outlets.

“The urgency in adopting the draft law is due to numerous cases of unjustified restriction of Russian citizens’ access to information in the Russian media by certain internet resources, including those registered outside Russia,” an accompanying note read, according to Reuters.

Online control

It’s difficult to tell whether the blockage threat, to be carried out by Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor, is an idle one.

Microsoft’s LinkedIn has been banned in Russia for several years because the company refused to store the personal data of its Russian users on Russian soil.

However, while the Russian authorities have for years been unsuccessfully trying to get Facebook and Twitter to comply with the same law, the threat of public outrage at such a move has restricted them to merely issuing fines—each company had to pay a less-than-whopping $63,000 earlier this year.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter had, at the time of writing, responded to a request for comment on the latest legislative proposal.

Putin’s government has imposed a wide range of restrictive measures on Internet use in Russia, including prosecutions for sharing memes that mock religious figures, running an ever-expanding list of banned websites and services, and banning the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) that can be used to circumvent those blocks.

However, this censorship system was weakened several months ago, thanks to a series of rulings from the European Court of Human Rights—which said Russia’s site-blocking measures were excessive and in violation of free expression—and from Roskomnadzor’s embarrassing climbdown regarding the blockage of Telegram, an encrypted messaging service that refused to hand the authorities its encryption keys and that successfully survived the regulator’s flailing efforts to stop Russians from accessing it.

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