The Russian government in recent weeks has been making use of a new law
that gives it the power to block Internet content that it deems illegal
or harmful to children.
The country's communications regulators have
required Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to remove material the officials
determined was objectionable, with only YouTube, owned by Google,
resisting. The video-sharing site complied with a Russian agency's order
to block a video that officials said promoted suicide. But YouTube
filed a lawsuit in Russian court in February saying the video, showing
how to make a fake wound with makeup materials and a razor blade, was
intended for entertainment and should not be restricted.
of the law, which took effect in November, say it is a narrowly focused
way of controlling child pornography and content that promotes drug use
But opposition leaders have railed against the law
as a crack in the doorway to broader Internet censorship. They say they
worry that social networks, which have been used to arrange protests
against President Vladimir V. Putin, will be stifled.
protection law, they say, builds a system for government officials to
demand that companies selectively block individual postings, so that
contentious material can be removed without resorting to a countrywide
ban on, for example, Facebook or YouTube, which would reflect poorly on
Russia's image abroad and anger Internet users at home.
So far at
least, the Russians have been mostly singling out not political content
but genuinely distressing material posted by Russian-speaking users.
Friday, Facebook took down a page globally that was connected to
suicide after it was flagged by the Russian regulatory agency, called
the Federal Service for Supervision in Telecommunications, Information
Technology and Mass Communications, known by its acronym Roskomnadzor. A
spokesman for the agency had told Facebook it had until Sunday to
comply or risk being blocked in Russia.
For Facebook, the response
turned out to be an easy decision. Everybody concerned - the company,
the government and opposition figures agreed the suicide-themed user
group was not a friendly page. The group, called "Club Suicid," was
deemed serious enough not to be sheltered by Facebook's criteria for
says it also complies with local legislation to ban content in certain
countries, though that was not the reason for removing the page in this
"Notable examples of where most services, including ours,
will I.P.-restrict access for certain counties are in Germany" and in
France, where it blocks content related to Holocaust denial, and in
Turkey, where content defaming the country's founder, Mustafa Kemal
Ataturk, is blocked, Facebook said in its statement.
for the Roskomnadzor agency, Vladimir Pikov, said a separate government
agency, Rospotrebnadzor, a consumer-protection organization intended to
ensure the safety of food and consumer goods, had made a determination
that the Facebook post promoted suicide, and was thus a public health
Twitter, the microblogging site, in March began complying
with Russian requests to remove posts - two because they appeared to be
related to an attempt to deal in illegal drugs and three posts for
"promoting suicidal thoughts," according to a statement issued March 15
by Roskomnadzor. Twitter has been "actively engaged in cooperation," the
Izvestia, a Russian newspaper, reported that
Twitter and the Russian agencies' officials had been in negotiations
since November to create a mechanism for selectively blocking Twitter
posts inside Russia.
Anton Nosik, a blogger and journalist in
Russia, in a telephone interview called the law "absurd, harmful and
absolutely unnecessary." But, he said, so long as regulators focus on
genuinely macabre material like sites visited by people fascinated by
suicide, he is not overly concerned about a crackdown on the videos and
Web pages in the Russian blogosphere. "The track record of the
authorities shows they are not going to enforce it strictly."
© 2013, The New York Times News Service