This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the Internet in Russia to be bound by “moral laws” that he says will stop society from “collapsing” — suggesting that Russian children are being exploited by his political opponents at anti-Kremlin demonstrations.
Putin’s televised remarks on March 4 come amid mounting efforts by Moscow to exert greater influence over U.S. social media giants and frustration from Russian authorities over what they say is the failure of U.S. social media firms to follow Russian laws.
As tens of thousands of Russians demonstrated across Russia to protest the jailing of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, Moscow accused U.S. social networks of failing to take down what it says are fake posts about anti-Kremlin demonstrations.
In December, the State Duma, the parliament’s lower house, backed substantial new fines on platforms that fail to delete banned content and a separate bill that would allow U.S. social media giants to be restricted if they “discriminate” against Russian media.
Russian authorities have also accused Putin’s political opponents in Russia of getting children to take part in unsanctioned opposition protests.
“We encounter [online] child pornography, child prostitution, and drug dealing where it is precisely children and teenagers who are the target audience,” Putin said.
He accused the organizers of anti-government demonstrations of bringing children “out onto the street to be hooligans” who “fight with the police, and then hiding behind the children, actually putting them in front.”
But Russian opposition leaders say that is a false and deliberate smear tactic.
The remarks by Putin, who has gradually cracked down on web freedoms in Russia over the past decade, appear to signal another effort to restrict the Internet even further in the face of a new wave of dissent following the August poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of Navalny.