Russia said on Wednesday it was slowing down Twitter in retaliation for its alleged failure to remove banned content, and threatened a full block if the US platform did not comply with its removal requests.
The move, which escalates a growing standoff between Moscow and US social media companies, comes weeks after Russian authorities accused Twitter and others of failing to remove posts they said illegally urged children to participate in anti-Kremlin demonstrations.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Russia has traditionally played a more passive role in internet surveillance than neighboring China. But as domestic political tensions have risen this year following the arrest and jailing of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny – which sparked nationwide protests – it has signaled a tougher line.
Roskomnadzor, the state communications regulator, said in a statement that as of Wednesday there were more than 3,000 posts containing illegal content on Twitter, which it accuses of ignoring its removal requests for years .
Twitter was already under pressure in Russia after being named as one of five social media platforms prosecuted for allegedly failing to remove posts urging children to participate in illegal protests, the Interfax news agency said on Tuesday citing a Moscow court.
The regulator did not mention content related to opposition protests in Wednesday’s statement, but did refer to what it said were illegal content on Twitter containing child pornography, drug abuse information and calls for the suicide of minors.
“The slowdown will be applied to 100% of mobile devices and 50% of non-mobile devices,” the regulator said.
“If (Twitter) continues to ignore the requirements of the law, enforcement actions will continue…(until it is blocked),” the regulator said.
The move would affect video and photo content, but not text, Interfax said citing a regulator.
“Desire to control the information space”
The Kremlin said there was no desire to block content, but companies should obey the law.
Some activists, however, said they believed the restrictions were linked to recent protests.
“Of course, the main motive is the increase in street protest actions,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, an internet freedom advocate from the Roskomsvoboda group.
“It’s been 10 years since the Arab Spring this year…they have understood that the internet is a driving force. Any desire to control the Russian internet is tied to the desire to control the information space.
Navalny’s allies say they are planning further protests in the coming months.
Some government websites were unavailable to some Russian Internet users shortly after Twitter’s announcement.
Telecommunications operator Rostelecom said the disruption to several government websites, including those of the Kremlin and parliament, was not caused by new restrictions imposed on Twitter but by malfunctioning equipment.
Stricter internet laws
Vadim Subbotin, an official with the watchdog, said authorities could target and slow down other internet platforms if they fail to comply with the law, Interfax reported.
In December, the lower house of parliament backed significant new fines for platforms that fail to remove banned content and other laws that would allow them to be restricted if they “discriminate” against Russian media.
Moscow has gradually introduced stricter Internet laws in recent years, forcing search engines to remove certain search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services, and platforms to store users’ data. users on servers in Russia.
Some of these measures raised fears of Chinese-style internet restrictions, but were only partially successful.
Russia tried to ban the messaging service Telegram in 2018, for example, but proved technically unable to block the app and last year publicly lifted the ban.