Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned a Russian bill that would force social networks to remove “unlawful” content within 24 hours of notification. It is based very closely on a law that was adopted in Germany on June 30.
The Russian bill shows that when leading democracies devise draconian legislation, they provide repressive regimes with ideas, said RSF. Submitted to the Duma on July 12 by members of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, the bill’s references to the German law are explicit.
RSF has repeatedly criticized the German law on hate speech in social media as it progressed though Germany’s parliament because of its potential for abuse.
“Our worst fears have been realized,” said Christian Mihr, RSF Germany’s executive director. “The German law on online hate speech is now serving as a model for non-democratic states to limit Internet debate.”
The German law has also inspired the United Kingdom. A UK parliamentary report in April cited the German example when it recommended making social networks pay large fines for failing to remove hate speech quickly enough.
Passed on first reading, the Russian bill would invite Internet users to report “unlawful” content and would give social networks 24 hours to remove all originals and re-posts. Several Russian legislators have proposed making social networks pay fines of up to 50 million roubles (735,500 euros) if they fail to comply.
To avoid being fined, social networks would be tempted to extend the scope of their censorship, especially as the bill’s definition of what constitutes unlawful content is very vague. Social networks subjected to government scrutiny would be obliged to send all notified content to the authorities every three months.
Subjugated Russian Internet
The proposed law, which if approved could take effect in early 2018, would contribute to the subjugation of Russia’s Internet. Several hastily-negotiated bills in recent months would step up censorship of search engines and messaging services and would restrict access to software for anonymizing communications and bypassing website blocking.
“This proposed law would take mass Internet censorship one stage further in Russia,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The goal is clear – to further restrict freedom of expression and information in a country where the number of imprisoned Internet users doubled in 2016.”
Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.