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New Russian bills on Internet speech may avoid automatically censoring users — as long as they censor themselves

Two bills currently under consideration in Russia’s State Duma would introduce administrative penalties for those who share “unreliable information” or criticize the government online. The bills have already been approved after an initial reading and are expected to pass their second and third readings as well. On February 27, the chair of the Duma committee responsible for technology and communication bills, Leonid Levin, announced that new amendments were being added to both bills to give users the “right to make mistakes.”

The original drafts of the bills would have penalized Internet users and media sources outright by blocking offending news sites on Russian territory and fining individuals. The amended versions would allow the Russian government to issue advance warnings to media sources that post suspected falsehoods and users who post materials that censors consider offensive to the government. Levin said the changes would give media sources “a chance to delete the unreliable, socially significant information themselves … and thus avoid measures on the part of Roskomnadzor to block their websites.” He added that individuals who likewise “meet the demands of Roskomnadzor and delete the content before a set deadline … would not face administrative responsibility” upon a first violation. Levin also announced that print media sources would no longer face penalties under the amended versions of the bills.