The Russian Federal Surveillance Service for Mass Media and Communications (RosKomNadzor) officially notified Facebook that it has added a Facebook page to Russia’s “black list” of forbidden websites on 28 March. The page belongs to a group called “Shkola Suitsida” (School of Suicide) and features various images and information on how to commit suicide, which violates the provisions of the law “On protection of children from information that threatens their health and development” or black list law. If the social network fails to block access to the offending group, according to the black list law, the entirety of Facebook could be blocked in Russia.
The black list law, which came into effect on 1 November last year, targets sites that feature child pornography, the promotion of narcotics or psychotropic substances, or those that encourage children to undertake actions that would threaten their lives or health. The list is made up of sites that have been deemed illegal by a court as well as sites that have been found illegal without a court order (the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSKN, Rospotrebnadzor, and Roskomnadzor will all have the ability to have sites added to this list without a court order). Once a site has been added to the list, Roskomnadzor has one day to notify the hosting provider that there is illegal content on the site and the hosting provider must notify the owner of the site in another day. The site’s owner is required to delete the offending page and, if he fails to do so, the entire site may be shut down.
The law was touted by the Safe Internet League, its sponsor, as an attempt to fight child pornography and ban sites that could be harmful to children, but many experts have cited concerns that the vaguely worded law will also be used to censor content that the government finds undesirable. It is not uncommon for the government to use vaguely worded laws to do so. In fact, the Russian government’s efforts to use the law to force YouTube to block the “Innocence of the Muslims” video in Russia demonstrate how the law can be used to block content even if it is unrelated to children’s “health and development.”
In this case, however, experts do not anticipate that Facebook will be blocked. They expect that the company will comply with this request, at least on Russian territory. Moreover, Roskomnadzor appears to be reluctant to add such important sites to the black list, with the head of the organizations’s press service, Vladimir Pikov, even promising that Roskomnadzor will attempt to ensure that the entire website is not blocked.
According to Izestiya, large social media companies’ compliance with such requests varies. In accordance with its new terms Twitter blocks tweets with content that is illegal in Russia only for users coming from Russian territory, but allows the tweet to remain accessible to residents of other countries. Russian Facebook clone V Kontakte, however, deletes forbidden pages all together. Google, which owns YouTube, will comply with Russia’s request to delete videos if it receives a court order outlawing it.
*** Update: Facebook deleted the page on 29 March.