Russia Is Suing Facebook and Twitter for Hosting Navalny Protest Videos

The companies, as well as Telegram and TikTok, are facing fines in a bid to coerce them into taking down videos depicting protests demanding the release of dissident Alexei Navalny.
March 9, 2021, 5:39pm
Russia Is Suing Facebook and Twitter for Hosting Navalny Protest Videos
Image: Mikhail Svetlov / Contributor via Getty Images

Russian authorities are suing Google, Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, and TikTok for allegedly violating a new law passed in February that requires social media platforms to take down “illegal” protest content, Russian news agency Interfax reported on Tuesday.

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The move comes after protests demanding the release of the recently jailed opposition leader and Putin critic Antony Navalny erupted across Russia, drawing record numbers of people to the streets. Last year, Navalny was poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent and later evacuated to a hospital in Berlin for treatment. While the Russian government has denied any involvement, subsequent investigations have concluded that Russian intelligence agents were behind the attack. 

According to Interfax’s report, the social media platforms were specifically being targeted for not taking down content that called for minors to attend the protests, which had not received authorization from the Russian government. If found guilty by the Moscow court, the platforms would be punished with a fine of up to $55,000 dollars for each violation of the law. Facebook, Google, and Twitter each face three violations, while Telegram faces two charges and TikTok only one. 

Facebook, Telegram, TikTok, and Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Motherboard. Google declined to comment. 

Social media platforms have increasingly become an outlet for both voicing and planning political dissent in Russia. While Telegram channels have acted as massive organizational hubs for protests around the country, videos of young Russians taking down Putin portraits have gone  viral on TikTok. Meanwhile, a video featuring a massive secret palace allegedly owned by Putin published to YouTube by Navalny’s opposition group was viewed over 110 million times, igniting further outrage online. 

The February law the social media companies are being charged under isn’t the last word, either. Under new draft legislation, for example, social networks would be required to provide an annual report detailing the ways in which they’ve addressed “illegal content” (such as calls for unlawful protests), including the number of pages removed. Meanwhile, late last year the Kremlin even threatened to ban YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook entirely after the companies stated that they would be stepping up their fight against propaganda. 

With no end to anti-government protests in sight, it’s unclear whether companies like Facebook will ultimately succumb to the Russian government’s repressive laws and take down content even if it doesn’t explicitly violate their community standards, or continue to pay the hefty fines that come with ignoring the laws.