Russia Throttles Twitter Access After Dispute Over Protests

Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone. Photographer: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

(Bloomberg) --Russia said it’s made content on Twitter Inc. slower to load after the company refused to take down content related to drug use, pornography and other banned topics, escalating a growing push against foreign social networks.

By Jake Rudnitsky
Mar 10, 2021, 9:32 AM – Updated on Mar 10, 2021, 1:29 PM
Word Count: 516

Authorities will make Twitter run more slowly on all mobile devices and on half of desktop computers, internet watchdog Roskomnadzor said in a statement Wednesday. It said access could be blocked altogether if Twitter doesn’t remove the banned content.

The move came a day after the regulator announced lawsuits against Twitter and four other social-media companies for not deleting posts about last month’s nationwide protests over the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

“No one has any desire to block anything, but these measures are justified to force these companies to comply with our laws,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call with journalists. The slowdown only affects photos and video content and not text, Tass news service reported, citing Roskomnadzor deputy head Vadim Subbotin.

Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Twitter service in Moscow didn’t immediately appear to have been disrupted Wednesday, although state-run RIA Novosti said its staff experienced some slowness.

President Vladimir Putin has slammed U.S. social media giants, calling them monopolies and questioning whether they act in the public interest. Networks like Twitter and Facebook Inc. have been used to show footage of protests against the government and organize events, angering local authorities.

“This is so far the softest measure they could have taken to limit access to western social media,” Ilya Klishin, a founder of media consultant KFConsulting. “The target audience is old guys in power, who aren’t Twitter users anyways. I don’t think this will change young people’s habits, and there are serious questions if they have the technical capacity to completely block access to Twitter.”

More Restrictions

Russia’s regulator said other services could also be targeted for throttling if they continue to defy local laws, Interfax reported. Legislators in parliament Wednesday said Facebook could be restricted next. Regulators filed court cases this week against Twitter, Google, Facebook, TikTok and Telegram for allegedly failing to delete posts that urged minors to attend the January protests, according to Interfax.

“This isn’t an empty threat,” said Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov, according to RIA Novosti. “Twitter and the other social networks that don’t fulfill the requirements of the law should get ready for serious consequences, including closure.”

Anton Gorelkin, a ruling party deputy in the lower house of parliament who sits on the Information Policy committee, said Facebook is not going to be targeted because it engages with the authorities.

”If Twitter had negotiated, there would not have been severe sanctions against it,” Gorelkin said on his Telegram account. “It’s not too late for Twitter to agree to dialog.”

Russia sought to block Telegram several years ago over failure to share encryption information but was unable to make the ban work technically and ultimately backed down. But under a 2019 law, authorities have since upgraded systems they say would allow Russia to completely cut itself off from the internet if needed.

(Updates with comments from government officials starting in fourth paragraph. An earlier version of this article corrected the spelling of TikTok.)

–With assistance from Henry Meyer and Ilya Arkhipov.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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