The Kremlin will stop at nothing to fully control all forms of media in Russia. The latest step included threats to Google, Facebook, and Twitter from Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor.
Alexander Zharov, the man in charge of the group, sent letters threating “fines and bans unless they end their ‘lawless actions’ and bend to Moscow’s demands to block ‘extremist’ content and share information about traffic on specific pages.” This content includes posts that encourage people to “attend unathorised rallies or that contained ‘calls for mass unrest [or] carrying out extremist activities.’”
The group also demanded the three companies inform Moscow how many people visit certain pages. If they do not, they could be accused of violating the “bloggers law” the government passed in 2014. If a blogger receives more than 3,000 visits a day, they must register as mass media. When it passed in 2014, people were unsure if the law extended to Twitter or VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook. Now it appears the law does apply to those platforms.
Roskomnadzor issued the letters after the Centre for Research in Legitimacy and Political Protest, a pro-Kremlin think tank, claimed a new program from their developers swept through the social media outlets to monitor the opposition.
“We are facing a serious cyberthreat — the mobilisation of protest activists in Russia by forces located abroad,” declared Yevgeny Venediktov, the center’s top deputy. “All this demands that we take active and urgent measures.”
The Kremlin always controlled the media but cracked down even more severely after Russia invaded Ukraine in March 2014. On March 12, Lenta.ru’s chief editor Galina Timchenko resigned, but employees said she was fired because she defied the Kremlin and published an interview that quoted the Right Sector Party’s leader (Moscow identifies the group as extremist and a threat to Russia). The next day, many employees resigned in protest of her firing and censorship efforts from Moscow. Kommersant reporter Anastasia Karimova posted her resignation letter on Facebook and Instagram. She left because of censorship and said there is no acceptable work in Moscow for journalists. Despite Moscow’s explanations, many know it is because of tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl resigned on air over censorship and the network’s backing of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Moscow then shut down three news websites critical of the Kremlin and the blog of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Kommersant Ukraine was shut down by its Russian publisher due to lack of funds, but a source told The Kyiv Post it was over censorship. In April, the U.S. accused Russia of censorship when Moscow shut down Voice of America.