As Western Democracies Ramp Up Efforts To Censor Social Media, Russia Appears To Feel Emboldened To Do More Itself

from the this-is-how-it-works dept

With various legislative efforts in Western democracies designed to force websites to take down perfectly lawful, but “awful” speech, it appears that more authoritarian countries are feeling even more emboldened to do more of the same. Case in point: Russia.

Over the last few years Russia has been fairly aggressive in trying to control the internet, even to the point of exploring ways to cut itself off from the public internet (we assume that Russia’s state sponsored trolling operations will retain their access).

Obviously, Russia threatening internet companies isn’t particularly new. We’ve had many, many, many examples of such efforts. However, the NY Times suggests that the latest crackdown is very much focused on the biggest internet providers: Google, Facebook, and Twitter:

Russia?s internet regulator, Roskomnadzor, recently ramped up its demands for the Silicon Valley companies to remove online content that it deems illegal or restore pro-Kremlin material that had been blocked. The warnings have come at least weekly since services from Facebook, Twitter and Google were used as tools for anti-Kremlin protests in January. If the companies do not comply, the regulator has said, they face fines or access to their products may be throttled.

The latest clashes flared up this week, when Roskomnadzor told Google on Monday to block thousands of unspecified pieces of illegal content or it would slow access to the company?s services. On Tuesday, a Russian court fined Google 6 million rubles, or about $81,000, for not taking down another piece of content.

On Wednesday, the government ordered Facebook and Twitter to store all data on Russian users within the country by July 1 or face fines. In March, the authorities had made it harder for people to see and send posts on Twitter after the company did not take down content that the government considered illegal. Twitter has since removed roughly 6,000 posts to comply with the orders, according to Roskomnadzor. The regulator has threatened similar penalties against Facebook.

Again, as we noted recently, these efforts at “data localization” again first began in Western democracies, claiming that it was to “protect the privacy” of people in those countries. But now you have Russia and China using identical arguments not to protect privacy, but to enable greater surveillance and intimidation.

This is important to remember, especially as many people pushing to regulate the internet think only in the context of the US (or perhaps Western Europe) without recognizing how the same rules can and will be abused around the globe. The internet is a global system, and hopefully it will remain that way. But situations like this create larger and larger challenges to keeping that true in the future.

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Comments on “As Western Democracies Ramp Up Efforts To Censor Social Media, Russia Appears To Feel Emboldened To Do More Itself”

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Koby (profile) says:

Other Way Around

This is important to remember, especially as many people pushing to regulate the internet think only in the context of the US

While certainly a convenient excuse, make no mistake that non-free countries would have attempted this anyhow. China, for example, began building its Great Firewall long before any such western suggestions at regulation were introduced. Rather, it is suprising that western nations would begin following in the footsteps of non-free nations towards blocking content with which they disagree.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Other Way Around

While true, the point is that authoritarian regimes are using Western democracy rules to legitimise their authoritarianism.

It didn’t take long for the Myanmar military to declare that the national election was void after Trump started his Big Lie(TM) and various German laws are cited by the likes of Duterte when it suits them..

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Other Way Around

If the US wants to point to the Great Firewall or Roskomnadzor and say "what you’re doing is bad," it becomes hypocritical when we’re seeking to do the same thing, and we lose the moral high ground. Those countries agencies can then justify their actions by pointing out that we want to do it too.

If anything, big tech has legitimized Mynamar’s censorship policies. They’re just copying the system of outlawing any dissent.

Come on, you can’t be serious. You don’t see a difference between a property owner enforcing rules on what can be done on their property by making people leave, and a military dictatorship enforcing its rules on a captive populace under threat of lethal force?

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Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Other Way Around

Come on, you can’t be serious. You don’t see a difference between a property owner enforcing rules on what can be done on their property by making people leave, and a military dictatorship enforcing its rules on a captive populace under threat of lethal force?

Most social media companies are petrified of legislation that would allow individuals to sue for selective enforcement if their own rules. Let’s face it: big tech invents its rules on the fly, not out of fairness, but rather as a political weapon. In that sense, U.S. tech companies and foreign military dictatorships have a lot in common.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Most social media companies are petrified of legislation that would allow individuals to sue for selective enforcement if their own rules.

A gay man refers to himself as “queer” in the context of reclaiming a word once considered an anti-gay slur. A homophobe refers to gay men as “queer” in the context of slurring all gay men. If rules against hate speech had to be applied equally regardless of context thanks to a legal dictate from the government, a social media platform might punish either both users or neither user for using the same word. After all, if “queer” is still considered a slur, punishing both users would be “fair”, and if “queer” isn’t considered a slur any more, punishing neither user would be “fair”.

But here in reality, human moderation tends to look at context — and act accordingly. Rules may seem to be “selectively enforced” precisely because examining the use of a word in context can often reveal the true nature of its use. In my example, the gay man uses “queer” as a word of empowerment, while the homophobe uses “queer” as a word of disparagement. Punishing one (the homophobe) without punishing the other (the gay man) is, in this example, the only fair act for a social media service that strives for the inclusivity of once-marginalized voices.

big tech invents its rules on the fly, not out of fairness, but rather as a political weapon

Their rules don’t affect civil rights. Their rules don’t affect whether people can vote or marry or have an abortion. And their rules don’t affect anything outside of their specific platforms.

You want to see people who invent rules as political weapons? Look no further than the GOP.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Other Way Around

Most social media companies are petrified of legislation that would allow individuals to sue for selective enforcement if their own rules.

Selective enforcement is normal, and shouldn’t be something that is punishable just because you don’t like the selections. Parents don’t always ground their kids when they come home after curfew. A manager doesn’t always fire an employee when they don’t meet their sales quota. Police don’t always pull someone over when they are speeding.

Let’s face it: big tech invents its rules on the fly, not out of fairness, but rather as a political weapon.

Even if that’s true, I don’t have to worry about Facebook shooting me if I post something they don’t like.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Other Way Around

but rather as a political weapon.

When are you going to give us the examples we have asked for every time you bring this up, as in give us examples of political speech that has been moderated and that show the bias you blather about?

That you can’t do that seems to indicate you have no argument at all except for your hurt feelings that assholes can’t shit-post as they see fit.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4

When are you going to give us the examples we have asked for every time you bring this up, as in give us examples of political speech that has been moderated and that show the bias you blather about?

Koby will never do that because he knows doing so would immediately destroy his entire point. Why else do you think he’s not going to even try to answer the question I asked him about “conversion ‘therapy’ ” propaganda?

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Other Way Around

…. [just because] assholes can’t shit-post as they see fit.

You’re assuming that assholes can see fit in the first place. I’m afraid that not much else in life can be further from the truth. First, that implies that assholes can see anything, and the very fact that we have to identify them as assholes from the get-go says a lot about how much they can see.

Second, their definition of "fit" means nothing more than an emphatic exhibition of constipation of the brain and diarrhea of the mouth. Thus, they "see fit" just about all of the time that they aren’t sleeping. It’s too bad that all the shit-posting has no consequences to speak of.

Shit-posters. You can’t argue with ’em, you can’t lock ’em away, and you can’t kill ’em – what’s a law-abiding netizen to do???

I ignore them, because bad speech is NOT countered by more speech, that’s like tugging on Superman’s cape, or flashing swords with Zorro – the outcome ain’t gonna be to your liking. Besides, they just drag you down to their level, and then beat you with vast experience.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Other Way Around

When are you going to give us the examples we have asked for every time you bring this up, as in give us examples of political speech that has been moderated and that show the bias you blather about?

Conservative: I have been censored for my conservative views
Me: Holy shit! You were censored for wanting lower taxes?
Con: LOL no…no not those views
Me: So…deregulation?
Con: Haha no not those views either
Me: Which views, exactly?
Con: Oh, you know the ones
(All credit to Twitter user @ndrew_lawrence.)

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Other Way Around

“Most social media companies are petrified of legislation that would allow individuals to sue for selective enforcement if their own rules.”

Yes because it would invite the government to intervene unduly in private commerce. Thank you for pointing that out.

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Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re: Other Way Around

I’m no censor. Quite the opposite, I’ve been accused of advocating for compelled service. My problem, according to others, is that I’m willing to allow too many people to speak, and I’m unwilling to block content, lest it ruin someone’s online viewing experience if they were to see a differing viewpoint.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Other Way Around

My problem, according to others, is that I’m willing to allow too many people to speak, and I’m unwilling to block content

That’s not the problem. You are free to do this in spaces you own. The problem is that you want to force others to do what you want, in spaces they own.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Other Way Around

The big problem with insisting on no blocking of speech is that the troll will drive all minorities offline by continuous attacks on their colour, way of life. If you really want speech with little to no blocking, go off to 8kun, but i doubt that you will stay their long.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m no censor. Quite the opposite, I’ve been accused of advocating for compelled service.

Accurately accused, no less.

I’m willing to allow too many people to speak

Nobody would give a fuck about that if you’d limit that idea to private property you own. But you’re advocating for a change in the law that would allow people to speak on private property they don’t own regardless of whether the owner of that property wants those people there or wants to host the type of speech they espouse.

I’m unwilling to block content, lest it ruin someone’s online viewing experience if they were to see a differing viewpoint

“Gays should be tortured into being straight” is a “differing viewpoint”, Koby. So yes or no: Should a queer Twitter user be forced to see “conversion ‘therapy’ ” propaganda in their mentions only so Twitter can say it doesn’t “ruin someone’s online viewing experience” by blocking such speech from even being on the platform?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Still wrong, just in a different way

No, he’s right in that he’s not someone calling for speech to be taken down, he’s just wrong in an entirely different manner by advocating and supporting the idea of forced association and platforms being forced to host speech even when they or their users don’t want it on that platform.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Still wrong, just in a different way

Ehh, I can sorta see where you’re coming from there but I’d hesitate that put that under the umbrella of censorship as it’s not really ‘you can’t say that’ as ‘If you stick around the assholes are going to multiply and make the platform too toxic for anyone but them’.

While I imagine part of the motivation of the asshole brigade is driving The Others out the primary goal is likely simply ‘just’ being free from all consequences for their words and actions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Still wrong, just in a different way

When the aggressive assholes dominate online speech, one party totalitarian rule will not be far away, and that will ensure that the only allowed viewpoint is that of the assholes. As demonstrated by Trump, those people will only be satisfied by rule by their own kind., it’s just that Trump was not competent enough to carry out a coup.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Still wrong, just in a different way

"…it’s just that Trump was not competent enough to carry out a coup."

We truly all need to be grateful that The Donald was an entitled man-child throwing tantrums rather than a genuine Hitler. A guy like that would have led his Beer Hall Coup from the front.

The original nazis weren’t cowards. One saving grace the current crop has is that they keep melting in the sun and are too shit-scared to stand for their beliefs.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Other Way Around

"My problem, according to others, is that I’m willing to allow too many people to speak"

Lying your ass off, as usual.

Your problem isn’t that you are willing to let other people speak. It’s that you want to force other people to unconditionally lend their private soapboxes and lawn space to anyone demanding it.

If you own a bar, feel free to let everyone remain, no matter how badly they behave. That’s not anyones problem but your own.
But you want to make it a law that no bar owner – or social platform owner – should be allowed to evict unruly clientele.

You know this damn well, Koby, and we all know by now just why you keep being fundamentally dishonest about it.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Other Way Around

"While certainly a convenient excuse, make no mistake that non-free countries would have attempted this anyhow."

They would. Problem is when a "free" country does the same that rather undermines its ability to condemn such action in the international arena;

  • GWB invading Iraq to "look for terrorists and WMD’s" gave Putin the ability to take both Georgia and the Ukraine without the US being able to claim moral high ground. The west stood idly by because the "free world leader" couldn’t lead without being an open hypocrite.
  • China can do whatever they want in Xinjiang because, alas, the "East Turkestan Independence Movement" operating there openly allied itself to Al-Quaeda and later on, ISIS. Again the US has no hard questions they can ask without themselves having to answer them.
  • Every time the US today tries to censure a nation over suppressing whistleblowers and journalists they just ask in turn "So, tell us how you treated Snowden?"

Whataboutism is rarely valid when it’s used to justify grand larceny because the other guy stole cookies, but it certainly doesn’t help your credibility when you want to accuse another party of the very things you yourself do in similar measure and context.

"China, for example, began building its Great Firewall long before any such western suggestions at regulation were introduced."

China’s "Great Firewall" is just an offshoot of their Golden Shield project – see the relevant wiki entry for details. But that in turn is nothing more than the continuation of millennia of China striving to be fully insulated from cultural input from outside. They want no repeat of what happened when Buddhism took root and traditional confucianist values were undermined.

"Rather, it is suprising that western nations would begin following in the footsteps of non-free nations towards blocking content with which they disagree."

I am surprised, Koby, to see you delivering that argument given that every time the topic of government intervention in free speech comes up, you’re all for it.

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