Twitter Watch

Russia orders Facebook, Twitter and Google to register as social networks -- or be blocked

As 'organizers of information distribution' they must store data about users' communications on servers in Russia

Russia's communications regulator has ordered Facebook, Twitter and Google to join a register of social networks or face being blocked in Russia, according to a report in the newspaper Izvestia.

By registering as "organizers of information distribution," companies agree to store data about their users' communications on servers in Russia or face a fine of 500,000 Russian roubles ($13,000), the report said. Companies that fail to register within 15 days of a second order from the regulator can be blocked in Russia.

A number of Russian Internet companies have already registered, said the newspaper. These include search engine Yandex, social networking service VKontakte, and webmail service Mail.ru, it said, citing Maxim Ksenzov, deputy head of the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media (Roscomnadzor).

The regulator's move against the three U.S. Internet companies was no surprise: Western monitoring organizations including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists have been predicting it since Russia passed its so-called Social Media Law in May.

It's not just Internet services that must register with Roscomnadzor, however: Bloggers too must register as mass media outlets if they have more than 3,000 visitors per day, and must comply with the same restrictions on their output as television stations and newspapers. These include obeying the election law, avoiding profanity, and publishing age-restriction warnings on adult content, according to the CPJ.

Roscomnadzor maintains an extensive list of blogs and other sites that it says contain "incitements to illegal activity", and requires Russian ISPs to block them.

Organizations including the CPJ expect the registration requirement to have a significant effect on freedom of expression in Russia, not through blocking but through self-censorship, as bloggers limit what they say to avoid the risk of administrative sanctions.

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