How Twitter, Google And Facebook Have Responded To Russia's Attempt To Censor Political Opposition

from the different-responses dept

We've written plenty about growing internet censorship in Russia. What started (of course) officially as a plan to "protect the children" by blocking access to content that might be dangerous for children has expanded to cover pretty much anything the current government dislikes -- including opposition politicians. Last March, we wrote about how Russia was taking down a wide variety of websites in an effort to block access to the website of leading opposition candidate Alexei Navalny. The government even blocked the website of a radio station and a bunch of independent news sites for daring to display copies of Navalny's own website.

Of course, with so much information online now being spread via American social media companies, Russia has been increasingly turning to those companies to help in its censorship regime. The Wall Street Journal recently looked at how Twitter, Google and Facebook all responded to censorship demands from Russia, as the government is trying to stamp out a planned rally in support of Navalny. The short summary, as noted by Mathew Ingram is that Facebook initially complied but has since stopped, Google hasn't complied and Twitter not only refused to comply but also alerted the users in question that the Russian government was trying to censor them:
In response to a request from Russian prosecutors, Roskomnadzor, the country’s communications regulator, began issuing block orders for Russia just hours after the Moscow rally was publicized on social media late last week, officials said. Facebook honored the initial order last weekend and blocked a page promoting the event, but others were quickly created, attracting more attention.

Since then, Facebook has left the other pages promoting the rally active in Russia, including one that shows more than 32,000 users indicating they will attend. Facebook lawyers are reviewing a growing number of Russian government removal requests, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Twitter Inc. confirmed that it has received multiple directives since last week from Russian authorities to remove tweets and accounts that promote the rally, citing a prosecutorial order under Russian federal law. But a Twitter spokesman said the company has “not removed the content they specified,” and has been forwarding the government orders to users to warn them.

Google Inc.’s YouTube still has videos promoting the rally available on its Russian site, despite the government’s directives.
Russian officials quoted in the article note, fairly confidently, that the blocks "will be fulfilled," which likely means other plans are in place to try to filter the same content, perhaps at the ISP level. Also interesting is that Russia's own (super popular) Facebook competitor, VKontakte, apparently has also refused to block the info, saying that it would "create an unfair competitive advantage for foreign social networks and turn people away from VKontakte." This is doubly surprising since a few months back, the company's founder was effectively pressured into selling the site to a businessman with close ties to Putin.

The article also contains a fairly astounding quote from a Russian parliament member, Mikhail Degtyaryov, in response to former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, faulting Facebook for its initial decision to block the page about the Navalny rally. Here was Degtyaryov's quote:
“McFaul should be quiet and Facebook should obey Russian laws. We know what happens to countries that don’t limit extremist activity online—that’s the ‘Arab Spring’…Russia doesn’t need that.”
Indeed, I'm sure that Russia doesn't want an angry public speaking out against a government out of touch with the public, but it's pretty bizarre to see a government official outright condemn what happened in the Arab Spring -- which was a clear move away from authoritarian dictatorships and into democracy. Degtyaryov's comment is basically saying that Russia prefers dictatorship to democracy. That may be true, but it's still rare for a politician to outright admit that.

Either way, it's yet another example of the internet -- and its still partially borderless nature -- creating headaches for regimes that are used to controlling the message absolutely.

Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 8:44am

    That may be true, but it's still rare for a politician to outright admit that.

    He is not alone, unfortunately. It's just that he admitted it. There are quite a few in the US, my country and all around that have wet dreams where they are the supreme rulers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Pragmatic, 5 Jan 2015 @ 5:48am

      Re:

      Be careful what you wish for: once the mechanism (and the administrative structure) is in place to run a police state, you can't be sure of who will actually be running it.

      Even "our guys" might turn out to be working against our best interests after all. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and all that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 9:54am

    I'm glad Twitter is notifying account holders about governmental demands being made against their accounts. It's important to let people know that they are on a government's blacklist, so they can take steps to protect themselves and their family.

    Especially since most political opponents in Russia end up in jail. I've read about a few being tortured to death while incarcerated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 10:09am

    the Russian internet censorship started in the exact same way as in the UK. ' we must protect the children!' was the cry that came from Cameron! he no more had protecting the children in mind than i did of protecting earth worms! it was used to forward the agenda he had established with Obama and Dodd, with help from Vaizey and Weatherly! not one iota of thought was given to anyone or anything other than aiding the entertainment industries, both in the UK and the USA and getting as many of the really bad people who make up 75% of the occupants of the UK! you know the ones. they buy twice or three times as many movies and albums than those who dont download at all, but are still thieving scum who should be bankrupted and jailed!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 10:10am

    Please to be shutting up and drink Wodka

    that's a good, compliant Kommunist...er Komrade...er Citizen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 10:12am

    So in short, the US supports the Russian opposition and opposes the current government.
    Nothing new here really, just the usual political bullshits. When it comes to other issues like the MPAA demanding to close the Russian facebook, noone is concerned about it at all.
    Not to mention that the US government have backdoor access to all of these companies...

    Sure Russian politics, but lets not pretend that the US is better. Even China has a better official record on human rights than the US.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 11:21am

      Re:

      "but lets not pretend that the US is better. Even China has a better official record on human rights than the US."

      yeah - putin put himself in power using the false flags when he lead the FSA. He is a murderer. And how can you put human rights and China in the same sentence w/o it being negative?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 10:18am

    Taking bets the MPAA is funnelling money (illegally) to help the censorship cause...

    MPAA being the filthy criminal scum that they are wouldn't hesitate for one minute to say a big 'screw you' to the US embargo and carry on sending money directly to Putin in "the name of all powerful copyright"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gumnos (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 10:26am

    Being quiet and obeying laws

    “Facebook [or Google or Twitter] should obey American laws. We know what happens to countries that don’t limit extremist activity online—that’s the ‘Lenz v. Universal Music Corp.’…America doesn’t need that.”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 10:35am

    it's pretty bizarre to see a government official outright condemn what happened in the Arab Spring -- which was a clear move away from authoritarian dictatorships and into democracy.

    Was it? How many of the countries that saw significant Arab Spring uprisings take place look more like a democracy than either an authoritarian dictatorship or a chaotic war zone today?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Guardian, 29 Dec 2014 @ 10:37am

    @1

    What do you mean wet dreams , sounds like they are acting like supreme rulers to me cause no one is standing up to them in any real way on mass.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 10:55am

    ]Arab Spring -- which was a clear move away from authoritarian dictatorships and into democracy. Degtyaryov's comment is basically saying that Russia prefers dictatorship to democracy.

    Well, the result of the arab spring has been anything but movement towards democracy outside of a few partial exceptions:
    - Egypt has turned towards a military dictatorship supported by USA
    - Libya is in total anarchy and a civil war where ISIL supporters are winning
    - Syria is in a civil war with the choice of a mean dictator or a babaric medieval "theocracy"
    - Yemen is split in 3 with al-quaeda dominating and the more secular Ibadi groups making gains against the weak government army
    - Iran and Saudi Arabia crushed their own revolts
    - Bahrain had their arab spring crushed by the Saudi army
    - Jordan was close to cracking before the civil war in Syria cooled the revolts
    - Lebanon is basically ungovernable given the amount of assassinations and the powerstruggle foreigners like Assad, Saudi Arabia, the western countries and Hezbollah in the country
    - Oman, Algier and Morocco dodged the bullet by giving limited concessions. None of them lost their single person of power status, though
    - Qatar supported the muslim brotherhood and groups now included in ISIL and al-quaeda
    - UAE was shielded by their wealth and has sprung into an economic boom since foreign rich people from neighboring countries need a place to flee to, should their friends fall from grace

    When it comes to russian politicians you sometimes get answers from realpolitik. It is rare to hear that kind of honesty from other countries politicians though they indirectly supports to the same ideals of stability over rights, might makes right and whatever else these things are called in a "controlled democracy" as Putin calls it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 2:45pm

      Re:

      "Well, the result of the arab spring has been anything but movement towards democracy outside of a few partial exceptions"

      This is what happens with most revolutions, and is why I currently disagree with calls for revolution in the US. Such things should only be done when the results of such devolution aren't much worse than the status quo.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 3:43pm

        Re: Re:

        Exactly. I'm sure there have been a fair number of revolutions that, once successful in driving out the old regime, did not up with the common people's quality of life getting noticeably worse within their own lifetimes and the country becoming less stable, but off the top of my head I can only think of one, and it happened way back in 1776. The student of history knows that that was the exception, though, not the rule.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 29 Dec 2014 @ 11:49am

    How crazy is it that this pointless 140 character "what I had for lunch" announcement system that everyone mocked has become the last remaining place to actually have free speech?

    I had a cheesesteak, by the way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 11:56am

    In the end, they will all cave

    It's inevitable. The Russians will demand X. The Chinese will demand Y. The British will demand Z. And so forth, and so on, for every country they do business in. They will be faced with government pressure from a hundred directions at once, and -- because they wish to do business -- they'll yield a concession here and an exception there, and then, one day, when nobody's looking, they'll give in entirely.

    Remember: these are corporations. They exist solely to profit, and profit is the only value held by their executive officers. They don't exist to support political or social or economic movements -- they are unconcerned with dictatorships or repression or genocide or rape or racism or discrimination or poverty or any other issue facing the world. Their calculus is based completely on "what makes money for us?" and if, in their judgment, profits are maximized by giving Russian or China or England or any other country what it wants...they will.

    Oh, they'll posture -- as they are now. They'll stall. They'll equivocate and deny and send out their spokesliars to massage the truth into palatable form. But in the end, they will bow down before even the most despicable despot -- as long as there's a buck in it.

    If I find that you ain't got no trust in me
    Then it's time to use my psychology
    I can change your mind, I can turn you around
    I know 'cause I'm a good businessman

    Let me tell you now, I don't need your respect
    Seems to me there's one thing that you forget
    I ain't in this business to be friends with you
    Thats why I'm a good businessman


    So are they all, good businessmen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 29 Dec 2014 @ 12:14pm

    >"but lets not pretend that the US is better. Even China has a better official record on human rights than the US."


    I am surprised the Russians have not taken the page from a different regime and made it illegal to report news about the government orders to search and suppress information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 1:39pm

    Mathew Ingram

    I can just imagine Micro$##t warming up to scream "Trademark infringement!" right now. After all, Mathew In(sta)gram...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2014 @ 2:33pm

    "What started (of course) officially as a plan to "protect the children" by blocking access to content that might be dangerous for children has expanded to cover pretty much anything the current government dislikes -- including opposition politicians."

    Hey, I think that's kind of unfair.
    After all, growing up to be an opposition politician can be VERY dangerous. It's a good thing Russia's protecting children from that dire fate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), 29 Dec 2014 @ 3:14pm

    Russian Communist party recently introduced a bill allowing to administratively block any pages that have information on "illegal" (i.e. not pre-negotiated with authorities) upcoming meetings and rallies.

    Probably because 100 years ago they had a permit for the 1917 Communist Revolution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 6:15am

    And the western governments look on in envy

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 6:22am

    Im just wondering at what point will any government start using the internet to create fake support in this mannor.......we already hear the the gchq can suppress stuff like views on youtube and such, when, if they dont already do, will they start generating like/votes/bots to give the illussion of support to an agenda no person in their right mind would unleash upon themselves

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 7:32am

    If I look at a map of the Russian Parliament, the second party seems to be A Just Russia, so that must be Navalny's Party. It's to the extreme right, United Russia (Putin's party is centre and centre right), there's Liberal Democrats with twenty seats or so at centre left and the Communists at the extreme left.

    So if people care about about a man who's party is even more to the right than Putin's, I don't know what to say. Would you be this outraged if the Communists were official opposition like in the 90's/early 2000's ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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