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Russian Clampdown on Web Content Raises Red Flags

Russian Clampdown on Web Content Raises Red Flags

Social media giants Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been caught up in a new Russian law designed to protect children from objectionable material. Critics say the law is too broad and can also be used to limit speech online. While online rights groups are keeping an eye on how the law is used, the social networks have removed content from their Russian versions. One of them, however, is also fighting back.

By Richard Adhikari
04/01/13 2:04 PM PT

The Russian government is using a law passed last year to restrict online content, and three major social networks have removed content authorities deemed objectionable.

The Russian law created a blacklist of sites containing child pornography, drug-related and extremist material, and other illegal content. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have removed the content in question, but YouTube is filing a lawsuit over the matter.

The law also made telecommunication services providers responsible for failing to protect children.

Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported the country's League for Internet Safety lobbied for the law after it claimed to have broken up an Internet-based pedophile ring.

The blacklist includes the domain names with URLs and network addresses of Web pages that contain illegal information. This registry would be run by a Russian non-profit organization.

Websites will be put on the blacklist for reasons that include child pornography or solicitation to participate in child pornography; drug-related information; or if they include information about methods of suicide. Web hosting sites and ISPs must take action if a site is not removed after it is added to the registry.

What Facebook Did For Russia

Facebook on Friday removed a page for a suicide-themed user group after being given until Sunday to do so by the Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information and Mass Communications, the Russian regulatory agency handling online issues.

"We removed this piece of content because it violated our terms of use," Facebook spokesperson Debbie Frost told TechNewsWorld.

Facebook has reportedly said it complies with local legislation to ban content in certain countries.

Twitter has reportedly complied with Russia's requests to remove posts related to drugs and the promotion of suicidal thoughts.

YouTube apparently blocked a video that was reported to be promoting suicide after receiving an order from the regulatory agency. However, it reportedly filed suit on the grounds that the video was intended for entertainment.

Google and YouTube did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Critics of the Law

The Russian law has been widely criticized as vague and potentially restrictive of online freedom of speech. The Center for Democracy and Technology has expressed support for the critics of the Russian bill.

"Although we share the goal of protecting children online, we are concerned that these measures could have serious ramifications on free expression and block access to information," David Sullivan, spokesperson of the Global Network Initiative told TechNewsWorld.

"The interconnected nature of the Internet means that even a well-intended but narrow effort to address issues such as child protection can have serious unintended consequences on the integrity of the Internet and the rights of its users," Sullivan said.


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