News / Science & Technology

Russian Official Threatens to Block Twitter, Medvedev Walks Back

An illustration picture shows the logo of the Website Twitter, January 30, 2013.
An illustration picture shows the logo of the Website Twitter, January 30, 2013.

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A high ranking Russian media regulator threatened to block Twitter today, but the threat was quickly walked back by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
 
Maxim Ksenzov, deputy head of Roskomnadzor, a federal body charged with overseeing the media, said that because Twitter has not responded to requests to ban users and remove what it called illegal content, blocking it would be “almost inevitable.”
 
Medvedev posted on Facebook and Twitter that officials should "sometimes switch on their brains" and "not give interviews announcing the closure of social networks."
 
"As an active user of social networks," Medvedev wrote, "I believe that everyone -- networks and users -- must comply with Russian law."
 
The debate about Twitter was sparked when Russian officials said the microblogging site had ignored demands to delete extremist content. Additionally, Russian officials said they were concerned with fake accounts and accounts that spread what they say is libelous information.
 
According to ITAR-TASS, Twitter did remove an account at the request of Russian authorities in late February because it was “disseminating banned information about Syria, including photos of corpses and executions.”
 
Other requests have been ignored, officials said.
 
Despite Medvedev’s statements, media freedom experts were concerned.
 
Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, a digital liberties watchdog group, said  it’s “very disturbing” when a high-ranking official threatens to shut down a service like Twitter.

And shutting it down is certainly something Russia has the capability to do.
 
According to Doug Madory, an analyst at Renesys, an Internet intelligence company based in Manchester, N.H., Russia could block Twitter over the entire country.
 
“There is presently a mechanism to block webpages and IP addresses nationally in Russia,” he said in an email to VOA. “They could add twitter domains and IPs addresses to that block list.”
 
The Russian government maintains a public database of blocked IP addresses and domains on its blacklist.
 
Christopher Burgess, CEO of Prevendra, a security, intelligence and privacy company, said the Russian complaint about fake accounts was interesting.
 
These, he said “could be construed as either ‘bots’ or those individuals choosing anonymity.”
 
“The former, from my optic, is policed by Twitter's spam team with vigor, the latter may be viewed as a necessity by those wishing to dissent in opinion,” he said. “If the Russian government believes individuals have engaged in libelous action by posting defaming content, they should pursue direct litigation against the offending party.”
 
He added that there have been a number of cases in which the individual libeled has persevered and obtained a court mandated solution.
 
“Blocking Twitter to the nation probably isn't a good idea, as other nations have attempted such and found social networks flow like water, the water will find a way down the hill,” he said.
 
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment about the Russian threat to block it.
 
Medvedev isn’t the only Russian leader who has embraced social media.
 
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently engaged the head of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in a Twitter spat over the crisis in Ukraine.

If Twitter is blocked, it would represent a further Russian effort to tighten control of the Internet.
 
In March, the Kremlin blocked the websites of opposition leader Garry Kasparov, the independent Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) radio station and the online newspaper Grani.

Last month, Pavel Durov, founder of the country’s most popular social network, VKontakte, said he was fired as CEO and forced to flee to Central Europe after refusing to hand over Euromaidan protesters’ private information to Russian authorities.
 
Also in April, Russia’s State Duma passed a bill would require bloggers with over 3,000 daily viewers to register with the government. They’d face the same scrutiny – some say censorship – experienced by Russian TV and newspapers.

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