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Instagram yields to Russia’s censor demands to restrict posts

President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with Russian Defence Ministry top officials and representatives of the Russian Defense Industry, at Bocharov Ruchei residence. (Klimentyev Mikhail/TASS /ZUMA Press/TNS)
February 21, 2018

Following a controversial YouTube video that was posted last week, Russia’s internet censor demanded that Facebook-owned Instagram restrict access to posts on its platform.

The YouTube video, which has been viewed more than five million times, allegedly shows Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska meeting with Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko aboard a yacht.

The 25-minute upload was posted by Alexei Navalny’s Anti-corruption Foundation, and now Russia had ordered the block of several clips by the end of Wednesday. That order had not been granted. YouTube has not commented on the matter, the BBC reported.

Local internet service providers (ISPs) lack the ability to block specific Instagram and YouTube posts. It was then speculated that the ISPs might block the social media services outright.

But some ISPs have already taken action against Navalny’s own website to comply with an order by Russia’s communications regulator, Roskomnadzor.

Courts ruled last week that Deripaska’s privacy rights had been violated, which promoted the watchdog to take action. Deripaska has claimed that allegations made against him are “false” and “outrageous.”

Due to a separate corruption conviction, Navalny has been barred from standing against President Vladimir Putin in next month’s election. He says this ban was politically motivated. In a tweet, he accused Instagram of having given in to an “illegal censorship request.”

“Shame on you, [Instagram],” he added.

The BBC alleges that a female model was involved in the corruption claims and had already removed some of the material herself, but that Facebook complied with an order to remove two remaining posts. Neither of the two posts were from Navalny’s own account.

A Facebook spokeswoman would not get into any details but did confirm that the company decided to comply with Roskomnadzor’s demands.

“When governments believe that something on the internet violates their laws, they may contact companies and ask us to restrict access to that content,” she said.

She added: “We review such requests carefully in light of local laws and where appropriate, we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory. We are transparent about any content restrictions we make for government requests with local law in our Transparency Report.”

The firm’s transparency report, which dates back to June 2017 and has the most recent reference to Russia, states that it had restricted 156 pieces of content over the previous six months in the country.

Roskomnadzor wants a video blocked but says he is still waiting for YouTube to take action.