Russian authorities have ordered Facebook, Twitter, and Google to censor “extremist” content and share traffic information with the government. If the companies don’t comply, they could face fines or even be banned in Russia.
The move is the latest salvo in an ongoing game of tit for tat between the United States and Russia, as well as another example of Russia’s efforts to centralize control over local Internet traffic.
In a letter sent to executives responsible for Russian operations at Facebook, Twitter, and Google on Monday, Russian state agency Roskomnadzor accused the companies of “lawless actions.” The agency then requested that it be furnished with traffic information for specific pages, and that Facebook, Google, and Twitter delete certain content referring to unauthorized political rallies or concerning “calls for mass unrest [or] carrying out extremist activities.”
The letter follows a formal warning to the companies issued on May 6, which demanded traffic information regarding the owners of accounts with more than 3,000 daily visitors. Under a 2014 censorship law, blogs that receive more than 3,000 visitors per day are required to register with the Russian government as mass media entities, classified similarly to television or newspaper stations. Facebook, Google, and Twitter can be fined more than $5,000 daily or banned from operations in Russia for ignoring these regulations.
This is not the only bold move that Russia has made to censor the web recently. This past month, Roskomnadzor banned many of Russia’s most popular Internet memes under a set of broad-based web censorship laws, and the government agency was granted permission to block access to any website without prior notice following the 2014 Crimea invasion.
Russia’s requests from tech companies are not necessarily only about censorship: The government may want to protect homegrown competitors such as Yandex as well.
Neither Facebook, Google, nor Twitter has publicly commented on the Russian threats. However, they have bent to the Kremlin’s demands in the past. Google moved servers to Russia earlier this year in order to comply with a Russian dictate requiring Russian users’ personal information to be stored on servers under the country’s jurisdiction, and Facebook has blocked content under government pressure in countries ranging from Germany to India.