Slow down, Twitter Roskomnadzor throttles Twitter over failure to remove ‘illegal content’
On the morning of Wednesday, March 10, Russia’s information watchdog, Roskomnadzor, announced that going forward Twitter will be slowed down for users in Russia. The new restrictions will affect photo and video content in particular, though the department warned that it has “every reason” to ban Twitter all together. Soon after the announcement, a number of official websites suddenly went down — including the sites for the Kremlin and Roskomnadzor itself. However, the government insisted that the disruptions had nothing to do with the move to limit the speed of Twitter.
On Wednesday morning, Roskomnadzor (Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media) announced that it had begun to slow down Twitter for users in Russia. The information watchdog attributed this decision to the social network’s failure to remove illegal content — including posts “inciting minors to commit suicide, containing child pornography, as well as information about drug use.” Roskomnadzor added that they have received 28,000 complaints about Twitter content since 2017, and 3,168 of these posts are still available. The department’s deputy head, Vadim Subbotin, underscored that the slowdown would only affect photos and videos posted to the site; text-based content will not be restricted. At the same time, he warned that Roskomnadzor has every reason to block the social network completely.
Update. Later in the day on Wednesday, Roskomnadzor informed Twitter that if it continues to ignore orders to take down banned content, access to the platform may be completely restricted until the information in question is removed. The information watchdog added that it plans to continue throttling Twitter until it takes down the illegal content. Roskomnadzor’s press service also announced that three administrative protocols have been filed against Twitter in court for ignoring the agency’s orders.
A few hours later, Russia’s key state websites stopped working. Internet users were unable to access the sites for the Kremlin, the cabinet, the State Duma, the Federation Council, the Economic Development Ministry, the Investigative Committee, and even the website for Roskomnadzor itself. But during his daily phone briefing with journalists on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov maintained that there weren’t any issues accessing government sites. “We have seen the messages, but to be honest, they haven’t been confirmed here,” he said. Peskov then told journalists that he was testing the sites himself. “I’m here now…no, everything opens up for us. And I’ll check the government [site] now, I’m just sitting at my computer. No, everything works,” Peskov affirmed.
The Russian government announced that the disruptions weren’t related to the limitations imposed on Twitter. According to the Digital Development Ministry, the real problem was equipment malfunctions at the state-owned company Rostelecom, which provides hosting services to state websites. Roskomnadzor offered the same explanation. Rostelecom also confirmed that they were experiencing “equipment failure,” and promised to resolve the issue soon. “Unfortunately, a global crash is currently being recorded,” the company announced. Meanwhile, private users of the provider’s services complained that they couldn’t access the Internet at all.
Later, major commercial sites began malfunctioning, as well. The Qiwi payment system was the first to report that their site was down, immediately emphasizing that this “wasn’t connected to the actions of Roskomnadzor.” Later, users complained that they were unable to access the search engines Yandex and Google, as well as YouTube and the website for the mobile network operator MTS. Yandex denied experiencing any disruptions, maintaining that their services were “working as per normal.”
When Roskomnadzor tried to block the messaging app Telegram in 2018, hundreds of sites were affected. The information watchdog attempted to block the platform after it refused to hand over encryption keys for users’ chats to the FSB. In the early days of the fight against Telegram, Roskomnadzor blocked millions of IP addresses linked to major hosting providers, which Telegram had used to bypass the block. Hundreds of sites experienced disruptions as a result and their owners suffered heavy losses. Roskomnadzor abandoned the method of mass blocks shortly after, promising to block access to the messaging app by other means, but in the end they never managed to do so. Telegram kept working and government structures even began setting up their own official channels on the app. In mid-2020, Roskomnadzor announced that it had given up on trying to block Telegram.
Update. Reportedly, Roskomnadzor’s attempt to throttle Twitter has slowed down sites with domain names that end in “t.co” (one of the domains Twitter uses). So far, this has affected websites belonging to Github, the television channel RT, as well as Reddit, and Microsoft, and the Russian sports news site Championat.
Translated by Eilish Hart