Russia threatens to block YouTube as confrontation with Google escalates

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Russian censor Roskomnadzor sent a letter to Google warning him that if he did not quickly restore RT’s two YouTube channels, he would face a full or partial blockage, according to Russian state news agencies which published parts of the letter on Wednesday.

This week, YouTube removed the two RT channels, RT DE and Der Fehlende Part, for posting what it called disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. YouTube in a statement said RT DE initially received a one-week suspension, preventing it from uploading videos because it broke disinformation rules.

But the platform said RT DE then attempted to circumvent the restriction by using the other channel, Der Fehlende Part, to upload videos, a violation of YouTube’s terms of service, which resulted in the ban. permanent of both chains.

The Russian government responded with fury and a torrent of threats of retaliation. The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday called the cuts an “unprecedented act of informational aggression” and called on state censorship to take action against YouTube and German media in Russia.

RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said the bans amounted to a “real media war” by Germany against Russia and said she “looked forward to” Russia banning major German public broadcasters , ARD, ZDF and Deutsche Welle.

The German government said on Wednesday it was not involved in YouTube’s decision to cut RT channels and criticized Russia’s threats of retaliation against German media.

“I mean in very clear terms that this is a decision of YouTube, and that the German government, or the representatives of the German government, have nothing to do with this decision,” told reporters Steffan Seibert, spokesperson for the German government. at Euronews.

Seibert said anyone calling for retaliation against the German media “is not showing a good relationship with press freedom, from our point of view.”

Russian authorities have sought to put pressure on German state media in Russia over the past two years as part of a wider crackdown on free media. Russian officials have previously publicly threatened to withdraw accreditation from Deutsche Welle, the foreign-oriented state news agency, which offers service in Russian.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that by blocking RT channels “there are signs” that YouTube has “grossly” violated Russian laws.

He told reporters that if Russian law enforcement concludes the same, it cannot be ruled out that steps will be taken to “force this platform to respect our laws.”

The threats to block YouTube come amid a growing campaign by Russian authorities to pressure American tech companies, as the Kremlin seeks to take tighter control over the internet in Russia.

Just over a week ago, Google and Apple bowed to the Kremlin’s demands to remove certain content relating to a tactical voting campaign promoted by jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny in Russia’s parliamentary elections.

Google removed an app as well as two videos from YouTube related to the campaign, called Smart Voting.

The move was seen as the biggest concession the tech giants have made to the Kremlin’s demands to remove opponent content and it alarmed liberal Russians that it was a step towards acceptance by companies of wider censorship in Russia.

Apple and Google have largely declined to comment on the matter, except to indicate that they follow local laws.

The Russian government has pressured Google, Facebook and Twitter for years to remove more content critical of President Vladimir Putin’s regime, imposing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines on businesses. But the Kremlin had stopped before blocking the platforms, in part because it lacked the technical capacity to do so and because it feared a backlash at home and abroad.

However, some experts believe the math has changed and the government is now ready to take a hard line. Since the start of the year, Roskomnadzor has slowed down Twitter, causing videos and photos to load incorrectly.

Google, in particular, has faced increased pressure in recent weeks. A few days before the company deleted the contents of the Navalny vote, judicial officers went to its Moscow office to demand the unpaid fines imposed by the censorship. Representatives from Google and Apple were also called before a Russian Senate committee, where the companies were accused of allowing “electoral interference”. The New York Times reported that Google deleted Navalny’s documents after Russian authorities threatened to sue some employees in his Moscow office.


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