Russia took action Tuesday to slow Twitter down in a move that also appeared to have accidentally shut down the The Kremlin’s own website, as well as other government agency sites.
The state communications regulator Roskomnadzor said it was retaliating for Twitter’s alleged failure to remove banned content. It threatened a total blockade if the US platform did not comply with its removal demands.
The punitive measure was aimed at video content on Twitter, the regulator said, and would affect all mobile devices and half of non-mobile users. Twitter’s text-based services were running normally on Wednesday.
President Vladimir Putin is outraged by the role social media played in boosting support for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Navalny was jailed in January when he flew back to Moscow, having been poisoned with the nerve agent novichok.
His arrest sparked the largest anti-government protests in a decade, with marches in some 150 Russian cities. Putin has repeatedly complained in recent speeches about US tech platforms and has previously dismissed the web as a “CIA creation.”
At the same time that Twitter slowed down, several government websites abruptly went offline on Wednesday, including kremlin.ru and the Russian government website, Government.ru. Roskomnadzor, the Internet censor and the Ministry of Economy were also affected.
Several pro-Kremlin commentators suggested that the outages may have been the result of a US cyber attack. The Biden administration has promised to respond to the Kremlin hacking with measures of his ownBut he has said that this will affect only civil servants and not ordinary Russians.
Russia later admitted that the problem was internal. It blamed the unavailability of state sites on a router malfunction within Rostelecom, the digital service provider. Access to the Kremlin and other websites was later restored.
According to Andrei Soldatov, a Russian cyber expert and author of the Web Network, the blocking of government sites on Wednesday was the result of an internal “mess” related to the slowdown of Twitter.
He said Roskomnadzor had been experimenting with new technology that allows it to shut down video sharing region by region. This is part of the Kremlin’s goal of digital “sovereignty,” which includes tighter control of social media.
“This has nothing to do with the Americans,” Soldatov said. Putin has made three statements in three days. It has been demanding greater restrictions. It seems the officials decided they had to act. “
The regulator alleges that Twitter did not remove posts asking children to participate in pro-Navalny demonstrations. Flag over 3,000 tweets that contain “illegal” content. They cover drug abuse, calls for minors to commit suicide, and child pornography, He says.
Twitter is one of the five platforms sued in Russia in connection with the protests against the Kremlin. Vadim Subbotin, an official with the watchdog, said it was possible that authorities could attack and slow down other internet platforms if they did not comply with the law, the Interfax news agency reported.
In December, the Russian parliament backed large new fines for platforms that do not remove banned content and other laws that would allow them to be restricted if they “discriminate” against Russian media.
Moscow has gradually introduced stricter internet laws in recent years. It has required search engines to remove some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services, and platforms to store user data on servers in Russia.
Some of those measures have sparked fears of Chinese-style internet restrictions, but they have only been partially successful. Russia tried to ban the Telegram messaging service in 2018, for example, but it was technically unable to block the app and last year publicly lifted the ban.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism