Russia institutes stricter social media regulations

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Under a Russian law that came into force in early February this year, high-traffic social media platforms will continue to be tasked with removing illegal content from their pages. Analysts say this marks a turning point in the regulatory concept of the Russian Internet (RuNet), where it has so far been the responsibility of ISPs and hosting providers to remove illegal content following instructions from the state.

The new rule also introduces the concept of a “social network”: any social media qualifies as such and can be registered in a state register created for this purpose if more than 500,000 people visit the page a day. The register includes all the most popular platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Russian Vkontakte, Telegram, WhatsApp, and Odnoklassniki.

Thus, in the future, platforms that qualify as social networks under the law are themselves obliged to ensure the removal of illegal content and if they fail to do so, they can expect a fine of between 800,000 and 4 million rubles (€8,900 to €44,500).

It should be noted that this range of fines is more modest than what has been made public about Polish plans for regulating social media networks. In Poland, a platform that does not comply with Polish rules can expect fines ranging from PLN 50,000 to PLN 50 million (€11,160 to €11.16 million).

According to Russian law, pornographic images of children, content related to suicide, self-inflicted acts and drug use, as well as advertising gambling and alcohol consumption, are prohibited content. However, it is not only content that is harmful to the physical and mental health of individuals that is subject to content restriction. Under the new law, information aimed at undermining human dignity must also be moderated, and content that violates public morality must also be deleted. The desecration of the community, the Russian state, and Russian state symbols, as well as incitement to hatred of state officials, are also subject to similar treatment.

And the line does not end here: incitement to extremist conduct, acts of terrorism and rebellion are also prohibited, as is the promotion of community events not approved by public authorities.

In view of the above, some analysts believe that only some of the restricted content can be justified by the protection of public morals and the integrity of citizens. However, especially with regard to the latter aspects, it is suspected that these are underpinned by the government’s efforts to curb the propaganda of anti-government protests.

Similar to China, in recent years Russia has also made concerted attempts to separate the Russian internet (RuNet) from the global internet, complete with a full set of top level domains that could — at least in theory — be switched on at any time.

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