Kremlin continues to tighten its grip over American tech companies operating in Russia. A Russian court has fined Facebook and Twitter with another fine on 14th August alleging that tech giants have failed to delete “illegal” content. According to the reports, Russia has been regularly taking legal action against social platforms for not removing content that is considered illegal by the state. Such content includes pornography and posts condoning drugs and suicide.
Russian regulator, Rozkomnadzor stated that there were 2,569 instances where some users were provoking minors to commit suicide, 450 child pornography cases, and 149 cases of instructions to use drugs.
Reportedly, the court slapped 5 fines on Facebook totaling 288,000 USD and one fine of 69,000 USD on Twitter. The popular messaging app by Russian developers, Telegram has also received a fine of 124,000 USD.
Russia Targets Facebook and Twitter in Free Speech Crackdown
The move came as a part of a wider crackdown on free speech by the Russian government. The banned material apparently not only included the aforementioned factors but also some left-wing activism. In January 2021, Russia arrested a vocal Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny when he returned from Germany after surviving an assassination attempt.
Mass protests erupted after his arrest which the Russian government systematically suppressed. Police started arresting Navalny supporters along with common protestors and labeled the demonstrations as illegal. It also ordered Facebook and Twitter to remove posts that were raising voice in support of Navalny.
It has already restricted Twitter services by slowing down access for citizens. The restrictions affected images and videos while text appeared in an original manner. Kremlin warned that the slowdown was only the first step, it can also completely block Twitter if unacceptable content is not deleted.
Russia Blocking Smart Vote Project
The same Russian regulator has also blocked different websites related to imprisoned critic Navalny’s Smart Vote project. It was a unique system developed to assist voting for political candidates that were not linked with the ruling party, United Russia led by President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian government urged Apple and Google to remove the Smart Vote app from its application stores. The system was popular in Russia for being a reason United Russia lost several of its seats in the 2019 local elections.
There were many calls on social media that demanded the release of Navalny and the implementation of a new voting system. In December 2020, the lower house of the Russian parliament passed two bills that instantly gave Kremlin greater powers to punish social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Accumulated Fine on Social Media Giants
So far Facebook has been fined 1.24 million USD and Twitter 620,000 USD in Russia. Unlike Twitter, Russia has not restricted Facebook’s access yet but made it clear that it will do so if Facebook failed to remove the content considered as illegal.
Facebook and Twitter have also faced restrictions in other countries besides Russia. Reportedly, China, Nigeria, North Korea, and Iran have banned Twitter altogether and have promised to punish those who access it by other means. China, Nigeria, and Iran have also blocked Facebook’s access. However, regardless of the ban and punishment threats, people living in autonomous regions have been using both platforms unapologetically.