Russia: Twitter to block ‘extremist’ accounts

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Moscow - Russia said microblogging service Twitter agreed to block access in the country to accounts that post “extremist” content, such as that of a Ukrainian nationalist group, as the Kremlin tightens control over the Web.

Twitter agreed to prevent access to 10 extremist accounts, including that of Ukraine’s Pravyi Sektor group, Alexander Zharov, head of Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor, told reporters in Moscow after meeting Twitter’s public-policy chief Colin Crowell.

Russia also seeks to block postings about child pornography, drugs and suicide, Zharov said.

Internet services from outside Russia are trying to navigate stricter rules to remain in Europe’s biggest Web market by users.

President Vladimir Putin, facing sanctions by the US and the European Union over his annexation of Crimea, said in April his government needs to impose greater control over information flows through the Web, which the former KGB colonel called a creation of US spy agencies.

Russia introduced a rule in February that gives authorities the power to block without a court ruling websites deemed either extremist or a threat to public order.

Twitter is eager to discuss Russia’s new rules with regulators, Crowell told reporters today ahead of the meeting with Roskomnadzor during what was the first official visit to the country by the San Francisco-based company’s executives.

Twitter has about 8 million Russian users, Zharov said.

Globally, Twitter’s monthly active users reached 255 million in the first quarter.

 

Shutdown Threat

 

While not having direct authority over global companies that have no offices in Russia, Roskomnadzor threatened to shut Twitter and Facebook if they don’t comply with the new regulations, the Izvestia newspaper reported last month, citing an official from the agency.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev rebuked the official for his comments the next day, after saying that both users and networks should obey Russian legislation.

Russia is also introducing a law requiring Internet companies to locate servers handling Russian traffic inside the country, similar to Chinese rules, and store user data for six months.

The legislation, set to become law on August 1, also classifies bloggers with 3,000 or more readers -- about 30,000 people -- as akin to media outlets, making them and their hosts liable for content and subject to regulation.

That means Twitter will need to keep all Russian user logs -- the data on when a user is logged in and to whom he or she sends messages, though not the content of the communications -- on servers located in the country, Zharov said.

On March 13, Roskomnadzor temporarily shut access to half a dozen sites, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s, to impede efforts to hold unsanctioned rallies against Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

The regulator also closed 13 Ukrainian groups on VKontakte, a Russian site similar to Facebook.

Google chairman Eric Schmidt said last year that Russia was “on the path” toward China’s model of Internet censorship. - Bloomberg News



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