UPDATED 09:40 EST / APRIL 01 2013


Russia Begins Censoring The Web

Not to be outdone by the likes of China and Iran, it looks like Russian censors are making the most of new internet laws that allow them to block websites containing content deemed “illegal or harmful to children”, according to a report in the New York Times.

Since the law was introduced last November, Russian authorities have demanded that a number of high profile sites remove ‘objectionable’ material, threatening to block the sites entirely if their demands are not complied with. So far, Facebook and Twitter have both complied with takedown requests, censoring content in order to please the Russian authorities, with YouTube commendably being the only site to have resisted the censors’ demands. Instead of complying, Google has brought a test case in Moscow in order to determine the boundaries of the new legislation.

Billed as the “Russian SOPA Act” by its critics, the new law is apparently designed to give that country’s authorities the ability to protect children from harmful content found online. According to the New York Times:

“The child 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.”

Naturally though, the bill hasn’t been without its critics, with some of Russia’s leading internet companies raising concerns that the legislation could be abused by those in power. In particular, concerns have been raised that the Putin government might use its new powers to block social media and/or other websites voicing criticism of it.

“The need to fight child pornography and illegal content are as important for civil society as the support of constitutional principles like freedom of speech and access [to] information. [However] The proposed methods provide a means for possible abuse and raise numerous questions from the side of users and representatives of internet companies,” said Yelena Kolmanovskaya, chief editor of Russian search provider Yandex, when the law was rolled out last year.

For now, it seems that Russia has been quite ‘laid back’ in its application of the law. Last Friday, Facebook reportedly agreed to take down a page called “Club Suicid” that promoted the idea of taking your own life, saying that it “violated their terms of service”. Before that, Twitter acted to remove tweets that were “related to illegal drugs”, reports the New York Times. However, there do not appear to be any reports of Russian authorities using the law in a negative way, such as censoring sites that criticize the government or ‘general’ pornography websites.

Even so, it’s early days yet and it will be interesting to see what develops further on down the line. As with all censorship campaigns, officials will inevitably come across more ‘borderline’ content where a general consensus on its legality is harder to reach. Russian internet users will be watching keenly to see how strictly the censors apply the law when that day comes.

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