Russia Threatens To Ban YouTube And Twitter, But Probably Won't Try

from the VPN-crackdown?-what-VPN-crackdown? dept

Last year, the Russian authorities ordered LinkedIn to be blocked in the country, supposedly for failing to store personal data locally. Since other US companies like Google and Facebook had also ignored this data localization requirement, it was curious that only LinkedIn was affected. Now the German news site Deutsche Welle is reporting that Twitter and YouTube risk being locked out of Russia, but for quite different reasons. These involve Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the wealthiest person in Russia, and a long-time vocal opponent of President Putin. Khodorkovsky spent a number of years in prison, allegedly for fraud and embezzlement. He now lives outside Russia, and has set up the NGO Open Russia, which promotes democracy and human rights in Russia.

Open Russia was put on the official list of “undesirable organizations” in April of this year. The Russian government has shut down Open Russia’s web site, and now it is demanding that the NGO’s presence on social media be deleted as well. Roskomnadzor, the country’s media regulatory agency, gave YouTube and Twitter a deadline to delete Open Russia’s accounts on their services, or be blocked entirely. The deadline has now passed, but the accounts are still accessible within Russia. The question is: what happens now?

If Twitter and Google continue to refuse to delete the accounts, the Russian authorities could try to block them individually. That wouldn’t be easy, so the government might simply order the whole of Twitter and YouTube to be blocked. After all, that is what it did with LinkedIn. However, the local experts interviewed by Deutsche Welle point out that LinkedIn was never very popular in Russia, so its loss passed largely unnoticed. Shutting down Twitter and YouTube would be a different matter, and would probably cause widespread online protests — something the authorities would be keen to avoid.

In any case, users could use proxies, VPNs, and Tor to circumvent such blocks. It’s true that Russia has brought in a law that gives the authorities the power to order those kinds of services to block access to particular sites, or be shut down. But the Deutsche Welle post contains the following information about what is actually happening on the ground:

The Russian government has already limited the use of such [circumvention] tools. But [Russian reporter and blogger Alexandr] Plushev pointed out that is just a formality. “They have declared about seven VPNs illegal but there are tens of thousand of them to be found online,” he said. “Both the Tor and Opera browsers allow you to get around such blocks.”

That’s an indication that the latest threats to block Twitter and YouTube may not amount to much in practice, and are designed more as a warning of what the Russian authorities could do at some point, rather than what they will do immediately. The fact that Russia will be holding a presidential election next March, in which Vladimir Putin is standing, and presumably expects to win, may be a factor here.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Russia Threatens To Ban YouTube And Twitter, But Probably Won't Try”

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Anonymous Coward says:

They're Putin their house in order,

but they’re Setun the stage so they can bring in NYET Neutrality and quit Stalin. Now you Moskow tow to their demands. It doesn’t matter how much Ukraine your neck, you won’t be able to get your Berings. Armenia really going to wait all day to see Caspian the friendly ghost? Don’t Crimea river, but it’s certainly something I’ve Moldova a couple of times.

Ivan other idea, but Azov this moment it’s Terrible.

That’s all for now. I’ll Soyuz later.

Anonymous Coward says:

While as pointed out, such blocks are relatively easy to bypass, only political and social activists are going to put in the effort to bypass such blocks. This has a side effect of largely eliminating moderating voices, with the result that opposition movements are very likely to drift into extremist positions. Therefore such bans make it more likely than any revolution will be violent, and replace one tyranny with another, it it succeeds.

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