One Down: Instagram Caves To Russian Censorship As All Eyes Turn To YouTube

from the don't-be-evil dept

We had just been talking about Instagram and YouTube facing site blocks in Russia all because a billionaire didn't like his dirty laundry exposed online. For brief background, a noted Russian dissident, Alexy Navalny, had published photos of billionaire Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko relaxing on a yacht with a young woman variously described as a model and escort fawning over them. Importantly, the salacious nature of the photos and videos is only half of the reason Navalny is drawing attention to them. The other reason is his accusations of corruption in government, as a massively wealthy oligarch consorts in this fashion with a high-ranking member of the federal government. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Russian courts had handed Deripaska a legal victory and ordered sites hosting the images, including Instagram and YouTube, to take them down. Russia's notoriously corrupt site-blocking agency, Rozcomnadzor, issued an edict that the images be removed or the sites would face a potential full block in Russia.

In that post as well, we posited that American companies should not be assisting authoritarian regimes in political censorship of this sort. Well, it seems that Facebook's Instagram has decided to cave to the censors.

A spokeswoman for Facebook would not discuss the specifics of the case but confirmed that it had decided to comply with Roskomnadzor's demands.

"When governments believe that something on the internet violates their laws, they may contact companies and ask us to restrict access to that content," she said. "We review such requests carefully in light of local laws and where appropriate, we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory. We are transparent about any content restrictions we make for government requests with local law in our Transparency Report."

Let's be clear about what happened here. A political opponent of the current Russian regime posted embarrassing photos showing both a potentially salacious act with a young woman and, more importantly, a potentially inappropriate relationship between government and a wealthy businessman. Whatever level of transparency Facebook desires to have on this matter, the simple fact is that an American company has chosen to bow to what certainly seems like pure political censorship. Whatever the privacy concerns Deripaska may have raised in court, it should be clear to anyone that similar pictures of some every-day person in Russia would not have been treated with so heavy a hand. This all looks to have been done to avoid political embarrassment above anything else.

And, so, now all eyes turn to Google.

Its response contrasts with that of Google's YouTube service. It had been ordered to block several clips before the end of Wednesday. But it has taken no such action.

Will Google cave as well? If I were to bet on the matter, that seems an outcome at least as likely as any other, but the company certainly shouldn't give into such demands. And, frankly, if any company has the power to get into a staring contest with the Russian government, it's Google. Whether it has the backbone for it remains to be seen, but I would guess there would be far too much backlash over a full block of YouTube in Russia to be worth the government blocking the site in full.

And, again, it's just not a good look to have an American company support this kind of corruption and censorship. It's a shame Facebook couldn't find its stance on the matter, but perhaps Google can do better.

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Filed Under: alexy navalny, censorship, oleg deripaska, rozcomnadzor, russia, sergey prikhodko
Companies: facebook, instagram, youtube


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  1. icon
    Davelaw (profile), 17 Feb 2018 @ 1:35pm

    These companies do not exist in a vacuum. The article states that Facebook simply geo fenced access to the content to comply with a court order of that country. That is exactly what many other U.S. websites do in similar situations, as they should. Indeed, Google does that in response to the European right to be forgotten, which is the proper way to handle it, versus the way CNIL wants it done, which expects worldwide takedown. While these websites might be immune from liability in the United States, that does not necessarily immunize thier operations outside the United States. If the people of France, Russia, Europe or any other territory don’t like what their laws or how Courts are acting, it’s up to them to change the laws in those countries. In any event, doesn’t give US companies the right to unilaterally ignore the law within those countries.

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