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Countering the tyranny of IT giants: by using force or cynical trolling?
The Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation discussed mechanisms for defending Russian interests on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter
“How do we counter the tyranny of global IT giants on the territory of Russia?” and “Can Russia offer alternatives to websites such as Youtube, Facebook or Twitter?” — these were the questions raised during the meeting of the Civic Chamber working group on protecting the rights of Internet users and developing and ensuring Internet security, held as a webinar on May 27.
Another reason for discussing these issues was YouTube’s blocking of accounts of news agencies such as “News Front,” “Anna News” and “Crimea-24.” They were banned on May 20 with no explanation or prior notice. Hundreds of thousands of people were subscribed to these Russian media channels, and the total number of views equaled millions.
“It is becoming obvious to everyone that the American video-sharing platform has declared an information war on resources promoting the position of Russia in the world,” said Alexander Malkevich, Head of the working group and Chairman of the Commission on Development of Information Community, Mass Media and Mass Communications.
Also present were the victims of the tyranny on the part of YouTube. The Director General of the television and radio company “Crimea-24” Vadim Pervykh called for the introduction of tough measures. “We can stop the blocking of our resources, even in foreign countries, only if we block their resources on Russian territory. We must communicate with them using the language of power. So far they have the upper hand,” he said.
“As for launching alternative social media, this issue has been discussed for several years. In my opinion, any alternatives in our country can be promoted only with the prior banning of existing ones. As long as there is a foreign lobby on the World Wide Web, it will be difficult for Russia to promote any particular product,” he added.
Political observer of the “News Front” information agency Sergey Veselovsky agreed that global IT giants need to be dealt with by exerting power and influence. He is confident that YouTube can be influenced by the applicable legislation. He suggested that Youtube be hit in the most vulnerable place by way of introducing fines. “We are already preparing a lawsuit in court, including compensation for material damage,” he said.
“There are specific players and agents of influence that work for these Western corporations. And these players and persons put their own business interests above all else. They make a lot of money in Russia. We can deprive them of these earnings legally, by turning to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, the Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation and other state agencies. There is nothing more important for them than money, and when they start losing profits, they will want to bargain with us and address our inquiries,” he added.
Director General of the Federal News Agency Evgeny Zubarev, whose accounts were also blocked on YouTube and Facebook, agreed on the need to use forceful methods of influence. He noted that the Russian media and the Russian Internet space as a whole are in an extremely problematic situation. “We should draw the attention of the state to these developments and solve the issue of Western websites functioning under the applicable Russian legislation. They will have to make a choice: either they work in accordance with our laws, or they cease to work on Russian territory all together,” he stated.
Director of the Safe Internet League Ekaterina Mizulina said that Western websites were actively removing posts with pro-Russian positions, but at the same time, they did nothing regarding the spread of destructive and dangerous content.
She suggested introducing an economic model of self-regulation for social media platforms, already introduced in the USA and several EU countries. “This is a rather tough stance when social media platforms are assigned to moderate their content independently. As a result, they regulate all operations themselves and respond to user complaints. If they do not this for a certain time, they receive hefty fines.”
“Another option would be to get these companies to register in the Russian Federation. After all, what is going on? These persons, having no legal entity status in Russia, are engaged in business here. They receive high profits from advertising and other services aimed at users. Moreover, they are not tax residents of our country, meaning they do not pay taxes and do not bear any responsibility in regard to the Russian legislation,” she added.
First Deputy Chairman of the Civic Chamber Commission on Public Control and Cooperation with Public Councils Artem Kiryanov analyzed these proposals from a legal standpoint.
“We know from practice that the most stringent regulation is the introduction of a licence, while the soft option is self-regulation. In EU member states, this mechanism does not work at the expense of self-regulation, but works at the expense of European bureaucracy, operating in this way for several years now. For Russia, such a path is not the best option. It is not what we need and not what we want in terms of oversight,” he explained.
According to him, this can be achieved by strengthening the legal position of the Russian Federation at the international level. “We need to work in foreign jurisdictions and block various commercial accounts, including foreign ones, which are important for global IT players. I think that we need to discuss these proposals with the Russian Ministry of Justice and the official representative of the country’s legal sphere. This course of action could be effective, all we need is to take the first step.”
Artem Kiryanov suggested yet another mechanism for defending Russian interests on Western websites. He was cited as saying: “We (Russian citizens, social activists and lawyers, as well as Russian-speaking people around the world) need to engage in ‘high quality’ trolling, that is, in response to false accusations of meddling in Western politics, we need mechanisms of legitimate public pressure to try to close the accounts of politicians and organizations of America, Europe, and elsewhere. Moreover, we can always find proper legal grounds.”
“What is preventing us from collecting several million signatures for closing the account of a political leader in Europe? At least, this will be an understandable public response to the actions taken by individual social media platforms,” he said.
Returning to the question of whether Russia can offer alternatives to YouTube or other social media, the Head of the project “CyberMoscow” Grigory Pashchenko was quoted as saying: “From the experience of working with our young students I can say that 95 percent of startups aimed at online streaming are bought up by Western colleagues at the initial stage. I heard this from our students who developed various alternatives. These were platforms that were much more interesting than YouTube with new algorithms. These innovations were bought up by foreign companies within a month or two.”
“All of our projects go abroad, they do not remain in Russia. The fact is that Western headhunters are always one step ahead and start recruiting at our universities before Russian companies have the chance. They begin early recruiting of specialists starting from the junior or senior year. Western companies already have them in their pocket during the freshman year. These are various internships and projects to travel and study abroad, as well as numerous other incentives and bonuses,” he stated.
In response, Alexander Malkevich assured that the Civic Chamber Commission would hold an event to maximize support for Russian innovations in this direction. “We will constantly promote Russian startups, providing them with all kinds of support and assistance, and will do all else that depends on us,” he said.
Summing up the meeting, he emphasized that the working group would ensure that legal entities of all Western social networks operating in Russia would be present in the country in strict compliance with the applicable Russian legislation.
“We must force Twitter and Facebook to pay the fines that have already been imposed on them by the Russian legislation. Twitter has already been penalized in every way possible. The working group will also seek legal changes. We need to introduce amendments to the relevant laws so that Western social media platforms do not have the right to simply block officially registered Russian accounts, especially state ones without reasonable grounds,” he added.
“We will continue this fight, and we will definitely win. Because we have no other alternative,” he concluded.
Artyom Kiryanov: Public control mechanisms must be used to ensure the implementation of the law