On Wednesday, Russia slowed down Twitter access in an alleged attempt to protect its citizens, stating that the social media tool has not removed content that is illegal, pornographic, or harmful. The move raised concerns among many who see it as the latest limitation on freedom of expression by the Kremlin.
The telecommunications regulator for the country, Roskomnadzor, said in a statement that it would be limiting how fast the social media network loaded for users in the country, and The New York Times confirmed that images and videos did take longer than usual to load.
Roskomnadzor accused Twitter of keeping content on its site that encourages minors to commit suicide, includes child pornography, and also contains facts about using drugs. The regulator claimed that it has repeatedly petitioned Twitter to take down illegal content.
“With the aim of protecting Russian citizens and forcing the internet service to follow the law on the territory of the Russian Federation, centralized reactive measures have been taken against Twitter starting March 10, 2021 — specifically, the initial throttling of the service’s speeds, in accordance with the regulations,” the statement said.
“If the internet service Twitter continues to ignore the demands of the law, measures against it will continue in accordance with the regulations, up to and including blocking it,” it added.
BBC reports that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was “no desire to block anything, but it is quite reasonable to take measures to force these companies to comply with our laws.”
The New York Times reports:
The action against Twitter, a site with a limited following in Russia, was intended as a warning to other American internet companies, Aleksandr Khinshtein, a member of Parliament who helped write a law that allowed the regulator to slow traffic, told reporters on Wednesday.
He said that putting the brakes on Twitter traffic “will force all other social networks and large foreign internet companies to understand Russia won’t silently watch and swallow the flagrant ignoring of our laws.”
The companies would have to obey Russian rules on content or “lose the possibility to make money in Russia,” he added.
Social media outlets like Instagram, Youtube, TikTok, and Twitter have given Russians a voice and ways to share information since the Kremlin has control over the television media. President Vladimir Putin’s main critic and opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny used social media earlier this year to speak out against Putin, and Navalny’s followers have used the platforms in order to organize protests.
The Kremlin has been critical of other American online companies, as well. According to The New York Times, Russian government authorities have accused American tech companies of discrimination, saying that they block “some pro-Kremlin accounts while handing a megaphone to the Kremlin’s critics. They have also said that social networks have refused to remove content drawing children into the unauthorized protests in support of Mr. Navalny.”
Putin reportedly spoke out against specific internet use this month, saying, “Online, we bump into child pornography and child prostitution, with the sale and distribution of drugs, with children and teenagers as the target audience.” He added that the internet must respect “the moral laws of the society in which we live — otherwise, this society will be destroyed from the inside.”
Shortly after the announcement was made, the Russian government’s own websites went down for almost an hour. Authorities said that it was a technical issue and was not related to the slowing of Twitter access.
However, some experts believe that the outage happened when the Russian groups tried to limit the ability for users to engage on Twitter, and accidentally closed government websites, as well.