Social media and the state: Getting ready for new regulations

Social media takes up a huge part of the information space. For a long time, social media was a law unto itself, at which point a huge number of communities with illegal content, such as prostitution, child pornography, drug and arms trafficking and even suicide groups, had formed. It was only possible to exercise control over them through social network administrators, which not always resulted in blocking the distributors of illegal content, or through law enforcement agencies that could remove illegal information and bring the violators to justice.

In fact, the compliance with local laws used to be of an advisory nature and it was extremely difficult to hold distributors of illegal content responsible, while law enforcement agencies did not have enough experts on the subject.

On February 1, 2021, responsibility for user content was transferred to social media sites, which will also face fines for refusing to block inappropriate content.

The new Federal Law No. 530-FZ defines resources that fall into the social networks category. These include all sites and resources with any number of unspecified persons providing content in the state language or the language of the republics that are part of the Russian Federation, for whom such platforms can place ads with the Russian audience of over 500K. The law also specifies content subject that is subject to blocking, ranging from child pornography and promotion of suicide to online casino ads, offense to honor and dignity, disrespect for symbols of power, and calling for mass riots.

According to the statistics by Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), every year more than 100K prohibited content materials are posted on the web. Substantial fines imposed for social networking services aim to eliminate illegal content from the information space, with social media now having no right to make an independent decision anymore as to whether they should remove the content. In case undesirable communities or materials are spotted, with no measures taken, a platform will be fined RUR 100K — RUR 1 mio ($1.3K-13.1K) or one fifth of the annual income. The amount will depend on the seriousness of the act as well as repeated law violations. The corresponding law was signed by the Russian president in late 2020.

Yet, not every social networking site is concerned about the risk of sanctions. As of March 11, Roskomnadzor reported over 3,100 posts with illegal content currently available on Twitter. Its administrators have so far given no response to the request for deleting such posts. Other social media site, Facebook, acts more responsibly as regards compliance with law requirements. On March 5, a notification was sent to Facebook administration to demand that ads recruiting drug couriers online be blocked. On March 12, the platform reported on fulfilling the regulator’s request.

The government’s involvement in activities of social media is by no means a unique practice limited only to Russia. In 2020, then-President Donald Trump launched a campaign and issued a corresponding executive order to regulate activities of social networking sites in the United States. The first platform to come under scrutiny was Twitter, the platform previously considered neutral and protected from liability.

A practice utilized in the EU, particularly in France, implies efforts to counteract distribution of fake information, terrorist campaigns, and child pornography. In Europe, web platforms must respond to the regulator’s request within one hour, with fines raised threefold and amounting to €112.5K.

By Viktor Dostov, Chairman of the Council, Russian Electronic Money and Remittance Association (REMA)

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