Russia announces retaliation against YouTube ban on RT – EURACTIV.com

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Russia has threatened to retaliate against German media and Youtube after the latter permanently deleted the account of the German branch of Russia Today (RT) for repeatedly violating community guidelines on disinformation. EURACTIV Germany reports.

YouTube initially suspended the Russian-funded Russia Today news channel for a week for spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

According to the video-sharing platform, RT therefore attempted to circumvent this ban by creating an alternative channel, leading to a final ban on Tuesday evening (September 28).

“YouTube has always had clear community guidelines that define what is and isn’t allowed on the platform,” a YouTube spokesperson said, adding that due to RT’s attempt to bypass the initial temporary ban, both channels have now been permanently removed.

Russia Today vehemently denied these allegations. Editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said on Twitter that the ban amounted to a “media war” launched by Germany against Russia. She called on the Russian government to take immediate countermeasures.

The government reacted to the ban on Wednesday (September 29), a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry calling it an “unprecedented information aggression” against Russia.

Russia also accused the German government of having “stigmatized” RT correspondents for “years”, adding that Germany was trying to silence media that did not follow the official line.

Russia has also announced countermeasures against German media and YouTube. The Russian Foreign Ministry said these would be “not only appropriate but imperative” in a statement.

Fake news

German authorities have been criticizing Russia Today for some time with allegations that it disseminates targeted false news and disinformation.

In 2020, the German Interior Ministry announced that the Federal Criminal Police Office and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution were monitoring RT Germany, as its dissemination of false information posed a threat to security and the public order.

“The deletion of the RT account is far too late,” Luca Nicotra of activist network Avaaz told EURACTIV, noting that Avaaz has been warning against Russia’s disinformation campaigns for years.

RT reportedly used online platform algorithms to distribute its content to maximize the reach of its conspiracy theories. According to a report published by Avaaz, RT Deutschland generated more interactions on Facebook in the first half of 2021 than the pages of Bild, Der Spiegel and Tagesschau combined. This despite its small number of followers (600,000) compared to its German counterparts.

“RT tries to abuse the algorithms of online platforms for their own purposes, especially through polarizing content – such as articles on the apparently negative effects of vaccinations,” Nicotra told EURACTIV.

YouTube was criticized in a July Mozilla Foundation report. The report states that the platform’s algorithm tends to fuel the spread of harmful content.

Crackdown on EU disinformation

The European Commission has already made the regulation of online platforms a priority and has tabled a legislative proposal in the form of the Digital Services Act (DSA).

The DSA, currently under negotiation at EU level, aims to make digital giants more accountable for their actions and will provide for legal actions against the publication of illegal and harmful online content.

To strengthen the fight against disinformation, the inclusion of the obligation for online platforms to disclose their algorithms in the DSA is debated.

Online platforms like YouTube and Facebook have so far only committed to monitoring content posted on their sites by voluntarily signing the EU Code of Good Practice on Disinformation.

That could change with the DSA, as the text imposes heavy fines on platforms if they do not take measures to minimize the risks of uploading harmful content, including disinformation.

The European Commission is also currently working to renew and strengthen the code of conduct on disinformation. Although the new code is also based on voluntary action, the pressure on digital companies to sign it and implement it adequately is increasing.

Commission sets the bar for anti-disinformation measures

The recently published guide on strengthening the code of good practice on disinformation illustrates the expectations of the European Commission regarding anti-disinformation measures for online platforms. Although the Code is not binding, the measures should become mandatory following the adoption of the Digital Services Act (DSA).

By signing and complying with the new code of best practice, digital companies will commit to ensuring that the measures they take comply with the DSA.

“If the current ambitious project survives the negotiations, then we have a legislative tool here that could really make a difference,” Nicotra of Avaaz said of the DSA.

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Alice Taylor]


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