Twitter Caves to Vladimir Putin, Censors Content Within Russia
Appeasing the dictator, 140 characters at a time.
March 27, 2013 - 12:03 am
If you have been following the Internet crackdown underway in Russia, you will not be surprised to learn that Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has recruited many websites — which are either terrified of his wrath or interested in currying his favor — to help crush and eradicate criticism of his government online.
However, you may be surprised to learn that one of those websites is Twitter.
The Moscow Times reported last week that — according to the Kremlin itself — for the past several weeks Twitter has been blocking Russian access to any tweets designated by the Kremlin as “extremist.” Twitter has also deleted at least one user account at the Kremlin’s request.
On its applicable agency website (known by its acronym Roskomnadzor), the Kremlin praises Twitter’s management team for its “constructive position” in reconfiguring its website in a manner “acceptable to Russian side.”
Here is the full Kremlin statement, via Russian wire service Interfax:
Negotiations on cooperation with the largest international Internet social platform as part of maintaining the register of information whose dissemination is banned in Russia had been held since the moment the first entries appeared in the register with references to those tweets. The administration of Twitter had had no practice of interaction with foreign governmental bodies on the removal or restriction of illegal content, and this made the negotiations difficult. The constructive position of the administration of the resource made it possible to formulate a mutually acceptable interaction algorithm that makes it possible to have information from the register processed within periods acceptable to the Russian side.
The agency has already blacklisted over 600 Russian websites, including a wiki and a digital library.
This same Kremlin agency is being sued by YouTube because of similar demands the agency tried to place on that subsidiary of Google, restrictions that prevented YouTube from displaying material that was clearly for entertainment purposes.
The zeal of Russian regulators goes far beyond that; then-president Dmitri Medvedev has even fallen afoul of the censors.
While Google is apparently fighting back, Twitter has taken a very different approach: under-the-radar appeasement. Had the Kremlin not boasted about its ability to push Twitter around, we might still not be aware of what Twitter is currently doing.
However, Twitter has, in fact, previously mentioned its ability to cater to a country’s censorship. In January 2012 — in a blog post ironically titled “Tweets still must flow” — Twitter announced:
We give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.
Interestingly, in June 2010 Twitter execs gushed about a visit by sham “president” Dmitri Medvedev to their world headquarters. They said they were “honored,” and he was “incredibly generous.” Two years later, Medvedev acknowledged his presidency was a fraud, and handed Vladimir Putin unchecked power for life.