Russia Attacks Twitter for Donald Trump Ban After Platform Raises Censorship Concerns

Russia has hit out at Twitter after the social media giant voiced concerns Moscow was throttling access to the platform over content it said encouraged young people to engage in illegal activities.

Russia's Roskomnadzor communications regulator said Wednesday it was limiting access to Twitter over what it called illegal content, including content containing child pornography, drug abuse, and details on how children can kill themselves.

Russia's Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media slowed Twitter's loading speed on mobile and desktop devices nationwide, the state-owned Tass news agency reported.

Twitter was quick to voice its concern. "We remain committed to advocating for the Open Internet around the world and are deeply concerned by increased attempts to block and throttle online public conversation," a spokesperson said in a statement sent to multiple news agencies.

"Let us be clear—we have a zero-tolerance policy regarding child sexual exploitation, it is against the Twitter Rules to promote, glorify or encourage suicide and self harm, and we do not allow the use of Twitter for any unlawful behavior or to further illegal activities, including the buying and selling of drugs."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova dismissed Twitter's complaint on Wednesday, accusing the platform of hypocrisy given its own bans on users—including former President Donald Trump.

"Is it the same Twitter that blocked the President of the United States a couple of months ago, or another one?" Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page. "They should keep a record of their own digital achievements," she added, to avoid "expressing concern about activities it is engaged in."

Zakharova has previously been accused of stoking political tensions in the U.S. after Twitter blocked Trump from using the platform. The decision was made after the former president was accused of inciting the January 6 attack on the capitol by a mob of far-right supporters hoping to overturn the results of the presidential election.

In January, Zakharova claimed that Americans fearful of censorship and political persecution had been contacting her to inquire about acquiring Russian citizenship.

Russia has been increasing its control of the internet—in particular social media and messaging apps—in recent years. President Vladimir Putin's administration is pushing ahead in its plan to create a national internet that can be cut off from the outside world, similar to China's mammoth "Great Firewall."

Russia successfully tested this isolated nationwide network in December 2019, claiming web uses did not notice any disruption.

Russian authorities have been cracking down on internet freedom amid nationwide protests in support of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who survived a state-sponsored assassination attempt last year.

Twitter is among five social media platforms being sued in Russia for allegedly failing to remove content encouraging minors to take part in illegal protests, the Interfax news agency reported this week.

Roskomnadzor said this week that it would take additional measures unless the platform complied with demands to remove such material. "If [Twitter] continues to ignore the requirements of the law, the enforcement measures will be continued...[right up to blocking it]," the regulator said, according to Reuters.

A man on his phone in RedSquare
This file photo shows a man using his mobile phone in Red Square in downtown Moscow, Russia on March 10, 2021. DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images