New legislation planned in Russia takes aim at YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. One lawmaker behind the proposal, Anton Gorelkin, accuses the social media giants of “blatant discrimination” against Russian media, according to comments reported by TASS.
The proposed law is an attempt to hit back at measures which social media platforms introduced earlier this year. Those measures saw some media organizations—including some in Russia—labeled as “government” or “state” affiliated.
The Russian parliamentarians behind the bill are mostly members of “United Russia,” the country’s biggest political party, characterized mainly by its staunch support for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. As Reuters reported, the lawmakers say that they have received complaints from Russian media organizations now subject to new labels, or even suspension.
Threat To Block Platforms Guilty Of ‘Discrimination’
In response, the new legislation would give the Russian authorities the right to fine social media platforms guilty of such “discrimination” up to 3 million roubles—currently around $39,000. It’s hardly a sum to strike fear into the hearts of tech giants—but the law would also provide for platforms judged to have broken the law to be fully or partially blocked.
The fact that the bill is being introduced with the support of United Russia members of the Duma, as the lower house of the Russian parliament is known, substantially increases its chances of eventually becoming law. The party currently holds 338 of the chamber’s 450 seats.
Reuters quoted Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as saying that “measures needed to be carefully considered, but that a mechanism to counter the problem was necessary.”
So there may be signs there of a note of caution—but Russia has acted against western social media platforms before. LinkedIn was blocked in Russia in 2016 after it was found guilty of breaking a law requiring companies to hold Russian clients’ data in servers based on Russian territory.
Social Media Giants Accused Of Censoring Russian Media
So far, the Kremlin has proved reluctant to make a major move against Twitter and Facebook—but this latest proposed legislation is a sign that parts of the Russian political establishment have been angered by what they see as censorship of Russian media by U.S. companies.
Some may see a certain irony here, given the long-standing and persistent allegations of Russian attempts to interfere in Western elections—by spreading disinformation on precisely those platforms they are now considering restricting.
Russia’s ‘Payback Time’ For Twitter And Facebook?
Not surprisingly, the idea of possible curbs on Western social media platforms has been welcomed in some sections of the Russian media.
“Payback time?” crowed a headline on RT—formerly Russia Today—whose material on YouTube is now labeled as “funded in whole or in part by the Russian government.”
“Who benefits?” is a question often asked by Russians as they try to untangle the intricacies of political plots. It is hard to see who this will benefit. Relations between Russia and the West are at their worst since the 1980s, when the then Cold War foes stocked up their nuclear arsenals against each other. Any progress towards better ties will rely on a free exchange of ideas and information—however some politicians and wider audiences might disagree with what they hear, see, and read.