The Putin Regime Will Never Tire of Imposing Internet Control: Developments in Digital Legislation in RussiaFebruary 22, 2021
Baurzhan Rakhmetov is a PhD candidate at Cardiff University. His dissertation studies the dynamics of internet control globally and in post-Soviet states.
Over the last decade, Russian authorities have built legal tools and technical capacities to be able to control internet infrastructure and digital content. Moscow’s most recent attempt to tame the internet consists of a pair of bills signed by President Putin on December 30, 2020 (N482-FZ and N511-FZ) that sanction online platforms for censoring Russian media and fines them for not removing information banned in Russia. Recently, one of these bills was applied amid the January 2021 mass protests following the arrest of the opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.
According to the Federal law N482-FZ, internet platforms—including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter—can be penalized for censorship of Russian media. Sanctions include fines, throttling of internet traffic, and blockage. This means that Twitter (and other tech giants) could now be fined or blocked if, for example, they censor RT (formerly Russia Today), one of the Kremlin’s tools for spreading propaganda abroad.
Although the Russian government is deeply involved in internet censorship, lawmakers justified these restrictive measures on the basis that foreign social media platforms were unjustly censoring online content from Kremlin-affiliated outlets such as RT, RIA Novosti, Sputnik, and Crimea 24. According to Roskomnadzor, the state regulator, foreign platforms censored Russian media twenty-four times in 2020. N482-FZ echoes President Trump’s May 2020 Executive Order, which tried to eliminate legal protections of social media companies guaranteed under the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230. The apparent overlap between Russian and U.S. efforts to exert influence on the tech giants will make proponents of a free and open internet uncomfortable.
The second newly signed Federal law (N511-FZ) levies fines for websites’ refusal to remove information banned in Russia. On January 21—two days before the first anti-government protests organized in response to Navalny’s arrest—Roskomnadzor threatened to fine TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and the popular Russian social network VKontakte for allowing the dissemination of calls for minors to take to the streets. As a result, social media companies deleted some protest-related content. On January 29, representatives of Facebook, TikTok, Telegram, and VKontakte were summoned by Roskomnadzor for not taking adequate steps to delete…