The government of Russia on Tuesday continued its campaign to force foreign social media companies to comply with censorship demands by filing lawsuits against Google, Facebook, and Twitter for refusing to delete posts that encouraged young people to join protests against the incarceration of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The suits, announced by a Moscow court Tuesday, included three charges against each of the social media giants. Each charge could be punished with a fine of up to $54,000.
The lawsuits concern the companies’ refusal to delete posts “enticing teenagers to wrongful activities such as participation in unsanctioned public events,” as the lawsuit filed by Russian Internet regulatory agency Roskomnadzor put it.
The protests were against the arrest and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny upon his return from Germany, where he sought treatment for the chemical weapons attack that nearly killed him aboard a flight from Siberia to Moscow.
Roskomnadzor stated legal actions are also pending against TikTok, Telegram, Instagram, YouTube, and several Russian social media platforms. One of those Russian services, Odnoklassniki, is currently appealing a judgment handed down against it last week for refusing to delete “illicit” messages.
Russian censors threatened fines against social media companies in January because they refused to delete videos made in support of Navalny, many of them referencing an expose published by Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation that revealed Russian billionaires constructed an opulent vacation palace for Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Black Sea.
Other “illicit” posts targeted by Roskomnadzor were instructional videos created by young demonstrators that taught other young people how to conduct protests. According to the regulators, by the end of January social media companies had complied with 89 percent of its demands to remove posts. Roskomnadzor warned foreign tech companies that fines for non-compliance could be increased to ten percent of their annual revenue if they continued to defy censorship commands.
Roskomnadzor responded with outrage last week when Facebook announced it had dismantled a disinformation campaign waged against Navalny protesters, demanding a full explanation for the social media company’s actions and the reason why each of the 530 accounts in the alleged Instagram disinformation network was blocked.
Facebook said the disinformation network was designed to drown out posts from legitimate Navany protesters by generating a torrent of false and irrelevant posts using their preferred hashtags. Some of the false posts claimed people were contracting Chinese coronavirus by attending pro-Navalny demonstrations.