MOSCOW – The Russian government on Wednesday said it was slowing access to Twitter, accusing the social network of not removing illegal content and signaling that the Kremlin is escalating its attack against companies. America’s internet has long provided a haven for freedom of expression.
Immediately after the announcement, Twitter was still accessible domestically, but dozens of Russian government websites went offline for about an hour, including the Kremlin site, the National Assembly, several ministries and enforcement organizations. law. Russian officials blamed the device failure and said the outage had nothing to do with the move against Twitter.
Over the weekend, US administration officials said they plan to retaliate against Russia for a massive hacking attack last year aimed at exploiting vulnerabilities in US government and corporate computer systems. .
Officials said retaliation was planned in the coming weeks, but it was unclear on Wednesday whether the shutdown of government sites was a sign of the latest incident in the attack. this network or an unrelated problem on the Russian Internet.
The Ministry of Digital Development, Media and Mass Communication said in a statement that problems with government websites stemmed from a device failure at a phone company and internet service provider. It is run by the state, Rostelkom, and it does not involve separate steps taken by regulators to slow traffic on Twitter.
The Russian agency made the announcement in one Twitter post.
Russia’s telecommunications regulator said it is slowing down Twitter downloads for internet users in Russia, though it’s not clear how attention the move will draw attention. The regulator, Roskomnadzor, their website also went offline on Wednesday after announcing the move against Twitter, accusing the US company of failing for years to remove posts about the use of ghosts. Illegal drugs or child pornography or “push minors to commit suicide” messages.
“With the aim of protecting Russian citizens and forcing internet services to comply with the law in the territory of the Russian Federation, centralized response measures have been taken against Twitter starting March 10, 2021 – specifically. is the adjustment of the initial speed of service, in accordance with the regulations, ”the regulator said in a statement.
“If Twitter’s internet service continues to ignore the requirements of the law, measures against it will continue to comply with the regulations, up to and including blocking it,” it added.
Twitter did not immediately comment.
Social media has relatively small reach in Russia, but the crackdown can have far-reaching implications. Even when President Vladimir V. Putin gave up democratic freedoms and strangled independent media, he allowed the Internet to remain fundamentally free.
Twitter – and to a greater extent, Facebook’s Facebook and Google’s YouTube – gave Russians an open way of talking, reporting, and organizing even though the Kremlin controlled television.
These social networks, along with China-owned TikTok, played a pivotal role in anti-Kremlin protests, prompting the return and imprisonment of opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny this year. Mr. Navalny has about 2.5 million followers on Twitter and his investigation published in January of Putin’s purported secret palace has been viewed more than 100 million times on YouTube.
Russian officials contend that Silicon Valley companies discriminate against Russians by blocking certain pro-Kremlin accounts while handing over a loudspeaker to Kremlin critics. They also said that social networks refused to remove content that enticed children into illegal protests in support of Mr. Navalny.
In recent weeks, the Kremlin has led an onslaught that criticizes US internet companies, seeing them as corrupt foreign forces.
“Online we encounter child pornography and child prostitution, with drug trafficking and distribution, with children and adolescents as target groups,” Putin said. Putin said this month.
The Internet must respect “the moral laws of the society in which we live – otherwise, this society will be destroyed from within,” Putin said.
Twitter has a small user base in Russia, although it is very popular among journalists, politicians and opposition activists. A report last year estimated the service had 690,000 active users in Russia, meaning any public backlash to the move would likely be much smaller than the Kremlin pressure. set similar limits for Instagram or YouTube.
Russia, with a population of 144 million people, is also an important market for US internet companies and the threat of closure provides some economic leverage for the Russian government to deal with the growing cyber conflict. escalation with the United States. US officials said they intend to retaliate against Russia hacking a company based in Texas, SolarWinds, which supplies software to government and corporate customers.
Recent history may also suggest another explanation for the failure of Russian government websites on Wednesday: a heavy-handed regulatory body.
In 2018, Roskomnadzor, while trying to shut down messaging app Telegram, unintentionally blocked the service of thousands of other Russian websites. By midday Wednesday, a number of Russian government websites, including those belonging to the Kremlin and the National Assembly, were back online.