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Russia slowing Twitter over content standoff

Russia slowing Twitter over content standoff
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Russia announced Wednesday that it is slowing down Twitter's upload speeds over what it says is a refusal by the social media platform to remove banned content.

Russia’s Federal Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Communications Oversight Service, also known as Roskomnadzor, also threatened to block Twitter completely if it did not concede to the Kremlin’s demands for the content to be taken down.

Roskomnadzor alleged that Twitter has not taken down more than 3,000 posts containing the banned content, including information regarding drugs, child pornography and encouraging suicide among minors. The slowdown will impact all mobile devices and 50 percent of desktop computers in Russia.

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“With the aim of protecting Russian citizens and forcing the internet service to follow the law on the territory of the Russian Federation, centralized reactive measures have been taken against Twitter starting March 10, 2021 — specifically, the initial throttling of the service’s speeds, in accordance with the regulations,” the regulator said.

“If the internet service Twitter continues to ignore the demands of the law, measures against it will continue in accordance with the regulations, up to and including blocking it.”

In a response to The Hill, Twitter pointed to its user policies that already outline a range of prohibited behavior, including posting content that involves child sexual exploitation or promoting suicide or self-harm. 

"We are aware of reports that Twitter is being intentionally slowed down broadly and indiscriminately in Russia due to apparent content removal concerns. Let us be clear – we have a zero-tolerance policy regarding child sexual exploitation, it is against the Twitter Rules to promote, glorify or encourage suicide and self harm, and we do not allow the use of Twitter for any unlawful behaviour or to further illegal activities, including the buying and selling of drugs," a Twitter spokesperson told The Hill.
 
"We remain committed to advocating for the Open Internet around the world and deeply concerned by increased attempts to block and throttle online public conversation."

The announcement from Roskomnadzor came a day after it rolled out lawsuits against Twitter and four other social media platforms for keeping up posts about February’s protests over the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The slowdown and the legal pressure mark an escalation of the Kremlin’s restriction of freedoms in Russia. While protests in the streets have been curtailed by law enforcement, Russia has not implemented extensive restrictions on social media or other online communications platforms.

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It was unclear what sparked the sudden crackdown on Twitter and other platforms. It was reported over the weekend that U.S. officials intended to retaliate against Moscow over an extensive cyberattack last year that affected several government agencies, raising the prospect that the slowdown could be a response to those plans.  

Twitter has also been a core mode of communication for protesters who have filled the streets recently to demonstrate against Navalny’s detention. Videos of the demonstrations and subsequent arrests flooded the platform, and opposition leaders maintained robust presences on Twitter. Navalny himself has more than 2.5 million Twitter followers.

Updated at 1:45 p.m.