Russia threatens retaliation over Facebook ‘censorship’ of RT
Hardly a day goes by without Facebook landing itself in a censorship row, but the social media giant’s latest kerfuffle – a temporary ban of the Russian government-backed network RT – has drawn threats of retaliation from the Russian state censor.
RT was barred from posting images, videos or live streams on its Facebook pagefor about 20 hours, possibly over a copyright issue related to its stream of Barack Obama’s final press conference on Wednesday, according to the network. The network said it streamed a subscription Associated Press feed, which should not have violated any rights.
“All the features for this page owner have now been restored,” a spokesperson for Facebook said on Thursday morning. “We are looking into the reasons behind the temporary block.”
The company did not respond to questions about whether the ban was a result of Facebook policy or was applied in error.
The censorship drew harsh words from the Russian government.
“This is a doubly unacceptable situation: it’s censorship, on the one side, and it’s censorship as an instrument of a competition,” a Russian ministry of foreign affairs spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, told the state news agency RIA Novosti.
Alexander Zharov, the head of Russia’s state media censor Roskomnadzor, threatened retaliation to RIA Novosti.
“Many American press networks work in Russia, and have the same media rights and opportunities,” he said. “If this unprecedented pressure on RT on the part of American media and social networks leads to limits on the work of Russian networks, we will proceed with enacting active answer measures.”
Roskomnadzor has expansive power to censor internet content, according to a report by PEN America which found that the agency’s selective enforcement of speech laws had “a broad chilling effect”.
Alexey Kovalev, a Moscow-based journalist who runs a website debunking Russian propaganda, said that any suggestion by the Russian government or state media that the temporary ban was politically motivated was “absurd”.
“They’re spinning it to say that it’s Facebook inspired by the hostile state department,” he said. “They will spin and spin and spin until everyone is just insane.”
Kovalev said he doubted that Roskomnadzor would actually attempt to ban Facebook as it did LinkedIn.
“They can’t afford that PR right now,” he said.
Meanwhile, he compared RT’s temporary ban from Facebook to the censorship faced by independent media in Russia that runs afoul of the Kremlin: “They got a taste of their own medicine.”