Russia’s federal censor orders Twitter to block independent media account
For the past two weeks, since it started throttling Twitter traffic for noncompliance with local media laws, Russia’s federal censor has accused the U.S. social network of refusing to remove dangerous and illegal content like child pornography and information about drugs. On Wednesday, journalists and watchdog groups learned that Roskomnadzor (RKN) is also demanding that Twitter suspend Russians’ access to content supposedly affiliated with so-called “undesirable organizations” (entities that “threaten Russia’s basic constitutional order or state security”).
On March 17, the news outlet MBK Media received a notification from Twitter stating that RKN demands the deletion of its Twitter account on the grounds that it publishes content from “Open Russia” (another project from former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky), which the Russian authorities have banned as “undesirable.”
MBK Media editor-in-chief Veronica Kutsyllo says RKN never warned or even informed her office that it seeks the deletion of her organization’s Twitter account. She insists that MBK Media has “no ties whatsoever” to any prohibited groups in Russia, adding that her news outlet publishes only its own materials.
Internet freedom researchers at the “Agora” project also reported on Wednesday that RKN has ordered Twitter to block the account of the Council of Europe’s Association of the Schools of Political Studies, which runs an annual series of seminars and conferences on subjects like democracy and human rights. Russia banned the organization last December.
Asked about RKN’s new takedown orders, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that the federal censor is merely enforcing Russia’s laws, “not campaigning against Twitter.” He also accused the microblogging service of “flagrant non-compliance.” “RKN is fulfilling its duties. This is its function,” explained Vladimir Putin’s press secretary.
Since March 10, RKN has been utilizing the government’s new “Internet sovereignty” powers, using deep packet inspection to slow Twitter traffic as punishment for the company’s refusal to remove all the content flagged by Russian’s state censor. On March 16, RKN threatened to block Twitter outright within a month if the network doesn’t obey its orders. Russian officials have also vowed to force compliance from other major Internet companies.