Russia said on Wednesday it was slowing Twitter down in retaliation for what it described as a failure to remove banned content, threatening to block the US platform if it did not comply with its removal demands.
The move intensifies a growing confrontation between social media companies in Moscow and the United States. It comes weeks after Russian authorities accused Twitter and others of failing to remove posts that Moscow said illegally urged children to participate in anti-Kremlin protests.
In Wednesday’s announcement, Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor addressed what it said was illegal content on Twitter that contained child pornography, drug abuse information and calls for minors to commit suicide.
Twitter said it was concerned about the impact on freedom of expression of the Russian action and denied that it allowed its platform to be used to promote illegal behavior.
“We remain committed to defending the open Internet around the world and we are deeply concerned about the increase in attempts to block and accelerate public conversation online,” a Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
“Let’s be clear: we have a zero tolerance policy regarding the sexual exploitation of children, it is against the Twitter Rules to promote, glorify or encourage suicide and self-harm, and we do not allow the use of Twitter for any illegal behavior or for promote illegal activities, including the buying and selling of drugs. “
Russia has traditionally taken a more intervening role in Internet surveillance than neighboring China. But as domestic political tensions have escalated this year over the arrest and imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, which sparked protests across the country, he has drawn a hard line.
Roskomnadzor said there were more than 3,000 posts with illegal content on Twitter as of Wednesday, which he accused of ignoring his removal requests for years.
“The slowdown will apply to 100% of mobile devices and 50% of non-mobile devices,” the regulator said.
“If (Twitter) continues to ignore the requirements of the law, enforcement measures will continue … (until blocked),” the regulator said.
Twitter was already under pressure in Russia after it was named as one of five social media platforms sued for allegedly failing to remove posts urging children to participate in illegal protests, the Interfax news agency said, citing a Moscow court on Tuesday.
‘CONTROL THE INFORMATION SPACE’
The Kremlin said there was no desire to block content, but that companies had to comply with the law.
However, some activists said they believed the restrictions were related to recent protests.
“Of course, the main reason is the increase in street protests,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, Internet freedom advocate for the Roskomsvoboda group.
“It has been 10 years since the Arab Spring this year… they have understood that the Internet is a driving force. Any desire to control the Russian Internet is connected with the desire to control the information space. “
Navalny’s allies say they plan further protests in the coming months.
Some government websites were not available to some Russian Internet users shortly after the announcement on Twitter.
Telecommunications operator Rostelecom said that the disruption of several government websites, including those of the Kremlin and parliament, was not due to the new restrictions imposed on Twitter, but to a malfunction of the equipment.
Vadim Subbotin, a Roskomnadzor official, said it was possible that authorities could target and slow down other internet platforms if they did not comply with the law, the Interfax news agency reported.
Moscow has gradually introduced stricter internet laws in recent years, requiring search engines to remove some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services, and platforms for storing user data on servers in Russia. .