Putin threatens Twitter ban in wake of democracy protests fuelled by social media

Navalny ‘won’t be the person that comes after Putin’ says expert

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Kremlin internet watchdog Roskomnadzor said it had slowed down Twitter’s ability to function in Russia because of its failure to delete illegal content inside the country. Roskomnadzor said Twitter had failed to remove 3,168 tweets promoting drug use, child pornography and teenage suicide and ignored “over 28,000 initial and repeated requests” to address content violations.

Any desire to control the Russian internet is connected to the desire to control the information space

Sarkis Darbinyan

But critics of the regime are convinced the measures were taken after mass demonstrations in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny were organised on social media.

Sarkis Darbinyan, an internet freedom advocate with the Roskomsvoboda group, said: “Of course the main motive is the increase in street protest action.

“It’s 10 years since the Arab Spring this year and they’ve understood the internet is a driving force.

“Any desire to control the Russian internet is connected to the desire to control the information space.”

The regulator did not mention content related to opposition protests in Wednesday’s statement but referred to what it said was illegal content.

According to a statement on Roskomnadzor’s website, all mobile devices and half of the devices using Twitter would face a disruption in service in an effort to “protect Russian citizens.”

Roskomnadzor official Vadim Subbotin said: “The mechanism envisions slowing down the transfer of photo and video content without any limitations on text messages. Users will be able to exchange messages freely.”

Mr Subbotin said the restrictions would remain in place until Twitter complied with the request to remove the offending content and warned failure to do so could lead to a full blockage of Twitter inside Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Nobody has any desire to block anything.

“But taking measures that force the company to fulfil our laws is completely justifiable.”

Mr Putin criticised the internet for preying on Russian youth during a meeting with young volunteers in Moscow last week.

He told them: “We all unfortunately know what the internet is and how it’s used to spread entirely unacceptable content.”

Russia has traditionally taken a more hands-off role in policing the internet than neighbouring China.

But as domestic political tensions have risen this year over the arrest and jailing Mr Navalny – which triggered nationwide protests – it has signalled a tougher line

Twitter was already under pressure in Russia after it was named as one of five social media platforms being sued for allegedly failing to delete posts urging children to take part in illegal protests.

The Russian parliament’s lower house in December backed big new fines on platforms that fail to delete banned content and other legislation that would allow them to be restricted if they “discriminate” against Russian media.

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Moscow has gradually introduced tougher internet laws in recent years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and platforms to store user data on servers in Russia.

Some of those measures have spurred fears of China-style internet curbs but have only been partially successful.

Russian officials made a hamfisted attempt to ban the Telegram messenger service in 2018 but lacked the technical knowhow to block the app and were forced to publicly lift the ban last year.

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