Russia has given Twitter a 30-day ultimatum to remove “banned content” from its platform. Illegal content includes child pornography that is related to suicide, drugs, and information about Kremlin critic Alexis Navalny.
If the social media giant does not comply, it will be banned from Russia. Vadim Subbotin, deputy head of watchdog Roskomnadzor, stated that Twitter has been extremely uncooperative with government requests for removing such illicit content.
Critics say the pressure on Twitter is an attempt to suppress President Vladimir Putin’s political opponents from organizing protests supporting the jailed Navalny, who opposes the government. Navalny had recently shared an image of himself with a shaved head from inside prison. A week before, Subbotin had announced that the government would limit Twitter’s internet speed until the platform removed the banned content.
Twitter denied it was promoting illegal behavior and expressed concern that the Russian government censors free speech. Moscow is also suing Twitter for not deleting material that encouraged children to protest against Putin. Russian foreign ministry has accused the United States of engaging in unfair competition in IT and social media platforms’ arbitrary censorship.
Sarkis Darbinyan, a lawyer with the Russian internet rights group Roskomsvoboda, said that the state regulator is angry with Twitter amidst the anti-Putin protests in which thousands of people have participated.
“After the protests, it became clear that Twitter wasn’t planning on deleting messages relating to peaceful civic actions and would continue to flag state propaganda, so users would be able to recognize fake information,” Darbinyan told The Guardian.
Darbinyan believes that Russian authorities are experimenting with Twitter, testing their suppression policies before they can be expanded to other networks. Twitter has a small number of users in Russia, making it a perfect test.
Estimates put the number of Russian Twitter users at 9 million, representing just 8 percent of the country’s population. Darbinyan warned that Moscow introduced more regressive laws, allowing state authorities to wield massive powers to determine which content should be blocked.
However, Russia has pushed back against criticism to censor Twitter and other social media platforms. In a Facebook post, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova highlighted Twitter’s censorship of former President Donald Trump.
“Is it the same Twitter that blocked US president a couple of months ago? They should keep a record of their digital achievements. Otherwise, it appears that as a result of a system failure, the company starts expressing concern about activities it is engaged in,” Zakharova wrote on Facebook.
Russia convinced Apple to comply with its new law that requires devices sold in the country to be pre-installed with apps approved by the government. The pre-installed apps will include antivirus programs, messengers, web browsers, email clients, and more. The new law comes into effect on April 1. Users are not forced to keep these apps on their devices and will have the freedom to delete them if they wish to do so.
Apple had earlier threatened to exit the Russian market should the law be implemented. But after Moscow refused to change its stance, the company decided to comply with it rather than lose market access. Critics have said that Apple should not have succumbed to an authoritarian government; it could trigger even harsher government demands in the future.