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Clash between Russia and Facebook


Clash between Russia and Facebook

The accusation is heavy: according to the Moscow government, in Russia Facebook has violated the rights of citizens by blocking the contents of some media close to the Putin government. Which immediately made itself felt, threatening sanctions.

This is the most recent chapter of a conflict, the one between Marc Zuckerberg’s social network and Moscow, which has deep roots.

Russia-Facebook clash, the latest skirmishes

In recent days Roskomnadzor, a consumer protection association, threatened Facebook with a fine of one million rubles, equal to 11,280 euros. And of course he asked for the immediate restoration of access to blocked content, which initially appeared in the newspapers Tass, Rbc and Vzglyad.

The banned posts referred to the arrest in Voronezh (in southern Russia) of some supporters of a Ukrainian far-right group. The three newspapers directly involved in the affair stated that Facebook would have marked the news that appeared in the official statements of the FSB and the Russian Investigative Committee as fake news.

Vyacheslav Volodin’s reaction

Vyacheslav Volodin, president of the State Duma (and, it must be said, an authoritative member of the ruling United Russia party), called Facebook’s stance unacceptable, which in this way would violate national legislation. He also threatened sanctions, as well as promising that a law will soon be proposed to safeguard Russia’s “digital sovereignty”.

Existing legislation

Indeed, as early as 2019, the Russian parliament passed a set of laws restricting freedom of expression. And one of these was tailor-made for – or rather, against – social networks, and more generally against the media.

According to the provision, any information medium is obliged to delete any content harmful to the stator, its symbols, the constitution, society and government. The same is true for news considered untrue or potentially threatening to public safety. The penalty for those who refuse is the blackout of the site.

Russia and Facebook, a short story of a near-cold war

The blocking of some contents considered fake news, we said, is only the most recent act of a conflict that dates back to at least 2014. When Facebook, along with Twitter and Google, had opposed Russian requests to censor content considered critical of the Putin government.

Also worth mentioning is the bizarre Russiagate, which exploded between 2016 and 2017: an underground agreement for which the Russians would have used the virtual spaces of the giant of Menlo Park to interfere in favor of Donald Trump in the presidential challenge that saw him pitted against Hillary Clinton.

In 2018, Facebook had removed hundreds of pages, accounts and groups – mainly of Russian origin – who, acting as trolls, had spread a series of false information on the Net, and above all anti-NATO propaganda arguments.

We then move on to the beginning of 2020, when the Moscow government fined Facebook and Twitter for not complying with the Russian law on the management of Internet users’ data. The law, in force since 2014, requires companies to store the data of users living in Russia on servers installed within national borders.

Here we are in September 2020: Facebook has obscured several profiles and pages that spread fake news in view of the latest US presidential elections. The news was once again to the detriment of Trump’s challenger, and the operation would have been conducted by the Russian Internet Research Agency, an organization considered close to the Kremlin.

The rest is very recent history.

Facebook between information and politics

The long tug-of-war between the social network and the Moscow government, despite having markedly political connotations, seems to be part of a global tension framework.

We remember that several nations are taking important measures against the excessive power of the web giants. Emblematic is the case of Australia, where the government has forced Facebook to restore the news deleted in retaliation. There the game is played above all on the table of the protection of the national media, whose contents were republished on Google and Facebook without paying any amount to the editors.

Russia has also equipped itself in this sense: A bill was approved last December allowing Moscow to fine platforms that delete banned content. And to limit access to social media managed by American companies in the event of discrimination against Russian media and Russian media.

The excessive power of Facebook is therefore under the eye of the storm in many states of the world. But there is the feeling that in Russia the clash is revived by some more motivation.