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Russia is slowing down Twitter, part of the pressure on social media

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MOSCOW (AP) – Russian authorities announced on Wednesday that they were slowing down the upload of photos and videos on Twitter because they did not remove banned content, as part of a growing effort to curb social media platforms that have played a major role in fueling dissent.

The state watchdog Roskomnadzor said the slowdown began after Twitter failed to remove content containing “drugs” and child pornography that promote suicide among children.

The agency warned that if Twitter refused to comply with Russian law, it could be completely blocked, but he hoped that the platform would “take a constructive stance” to remove banned content. Vadim Subbotin, deputy head of Roskomnadzor, said in a televised speech that Twitter was the only social platform that “openly ignores the Russian authorities’ demand to remove banned content.”

A statement from Roskomnadzor said Twitter had been unable to remove more than 3,000 messages containing banned content, including more than 2,500 messages encouraging suicide among minors.

According to the monitoring market, the slowdown will cover 50% of all mobile devices and desktop users in the country.

Twitter users’ policies set out a number of prohibited behaviors, including prohibiting child sexual exploitation or promoting or encouraging suicide or self-harm. Twitter did not respond to email requests for comment.

Twitter is less popular in Russia than other social media services, has about 13 million users, or about a third of its Facebook number, according to a similar web-based research company.

But the attack on the platform could be “artillery fire aimed, among other things, at intimidating other major social media outlets,” said Artyom Kozlyuk, founder of the Internet rights group Roskomsvoboda.

The crackdown on Twitter comes as authorities criticized social media platforms used to take tens of thousands of people to the streets across Russia this year to demand the release of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The wave of attacks has posed a serious challenge to the Kremlin.

Russian authorities have attacked programs that fail to remove calls from children to join opposition protests, which is against the law in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that the government “has no desire to block anything,” but added that the law needed to be enforced.

The move against Twitter is part of the government’s ongoing efforts to tighten control of the Internet and social media since 2012, when a law was passed that allowed authorities to list it and block certain online content.

“Since then, dozens of laws have been passed that expand the categories of prohibited information, introduce new restrictions (և) and expand the list of public institutions that can conduct online censorship,” Kozlyuk said.

In 2014, the authorities passed a law requiring online services to protect the personal data of Russian users on servers in Russia, and since then have tried to force Facebook to comply with Twitter. Both companies have been fined several times, first for small sums of about $ 50, and last year for the equivalent of $ 63,000 each.

The government has lifted the direct bans, although the law allows it, probably for fear that the move will cause too much public outrage. Only the social network LinkedIn, which was not very popular in Russia, was banned by the authorities for not protecting the data of users in Russia.

In recent months, Russian authorities have also increasingly attacked Facebook and Twitter, blocking Russian accounts and content, as well as tagging Twitter to government-affiliated media accounts. Last fall, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the two social media giants of “open censorship”, saying that “Russian media, without trial or investigation, are labeled as unreliable, excluded from search, blocked, and accounts are deleted.” »

Two weeks ago, Roskomnadzor demanded that Twitter explain why it had removed 100 accounts that were reportedly linked to Russia. Twitter said the accounts “spread stories that were in line with the Russian government,” aimed at undermining NATO’s belief in its stability, “and aimed at the United States and the European Union.

Dmitry Medvedev, who was Russia’s president from 2008 to 2012 when Putin was forced to step down due to time constraints and is currently Russia’s deputy head of the Security Council, complained last month that Twitter had labeled his account as government. He said that the American platform does it only “with countries with which relations are not very clear. And they did not do it with their own politicians. “

The government’s opposition to the social media platform has been “a long process in which bets are routinely collected,” said Damir Gainutdinov, head of the Net Eat Liberties program, which focuses on online free speech in Russia. “The authorities are ready to take more and more stringent measures.” At first we talked to you, then we fined, and now we will slow down. “

When the Russian authorities slowed down Twitter, some state websites had disruptions and access problems. It is unclear whether the events were related, with some experts speculating that they may have been the result of unrelated cyberattacks. The Ministry of Digital Development has acknowledged the outages on some state-owned websites, but said they were related to Rostelecom’s communications equipment.

In 2018, Roskomnadzor moved to Telegram for refusing to hand over the keys used to spread the message, but was unable to completely block access to the app, disrupting hundreds of websites in Russia.

Last year, the control dog formally withdrew its application restriction requirements, which, despite the ban, have been widely used by government agencies. Experts say that while there is not enough data to finally link Wednesday’s site shutdowns to Twitter pressure, it would not be surprising if both were enabled.

“I personally have no doubt, especially after the situation with Telegram, that the Russian authorities will not hesitate to sink half of the Russian Internet to achieve their political goals,” Gainutdinov said.

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Associated Press writer Calvin Chan has invested in London.

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