Russian President Vladimir Putin has been asserting greater control over digital media for the last year, and now Facebook is arguably complicit in helping him solidify that position.
Today communications regulator Roskomnadzor said that Facebook had blocked an event page for an upcoming rally on behalf of opposition leader Alexey Navalny at the agency’s request. Roskomnadzor is also seeking to block pages for additional rallies, on Facebook as well as on Twitter and Russian social network VKontakte.
“We were very surprised at the speed with which Facebook blocked the page at the request of Roskomnadzor without even consulting with the organizers of the event,” Kira Yarmysh, a spokeswoman for Navalny, told Bloomberg.
Navalny has been under house arrest since February. In 2011 and 2012, he led large street protests challenging Putin’s regime. On January 15, the date of the planned rally, he will hear the verdict in the case of his alleged fraud, a trial that he says has been staged.
VKontakte founder Pavel Durov appears to have little sympathy for Facebook’s position; he called the social network out on Twitter for its cowardice:
Facebook has struggled to build a large audience in Russia. As of July, it had just 10.5 million users, a scale dwarfed by homegrown networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki.