Facebook Bends to Pressure to Block Page Supporting Political Critic

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Facebook has bent to pressure from Russia to block a page supporting political critic, Alexei Navalny. Russian users have been prevented from accessing the page which was created on Friday to gather support for a demonstration on Jan. 15. Prior to access being removed, over 12,000 people had signed up to the Facebook event page called “Public gathering to discuss the verdict.”

Facebook’s action has been seen by critics as a sign of the company’s new limitation in being able to provide platforms for political opposition movements. The social media platform was applauded in 2011 for its ability to be used to share information during the Arab Spring movement. It was also used the same year in Russia, to organize anti-government protests during the winter.

Russian Internet watchdog Roskomnadzor, said that a demand was sent to the popular social networking site, telling them to block access to the page, as it had called for what they said was an “unauthorized mass event.” In February, Russia passed a law that empowers Roskomnadzor to block pages which have been created to promote protests, which would disrupt the country’s public order. According to the regulator’s spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky, the demand to block the page has been met.

Navalny has criticized Russian Facebook for what he called “unpleasant and surprising behavior.” The opposition leader said on his personal page that he was surprised the social media giant responded so quickly to Roskomnadzor’s request to block the page, and that they did not request a court order.

Soon after Facebook bent to the pressure to block the page supporting the political critic, former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, commented on the action on his Twitter blog. McFaul said that Facebook should quickly rectify what he called a “mistake” and added that it had set a “horrible precedent.”

Instead of being able to view the contentious page, users in Russia are now met with a message telling them the page cannot be displayed. According to The Economic Times, the Facebook event page can now only be opened outside of Russia, and through an external IP.

According to an ABC News report, after the original page had closed supporters quickly created new a new page for the event. The new page had attracted nearly 10,000 supporters in just a few hours. Other pages condemning Facebook’s censorship action have also been created. The ABC News report also said that Facebook said there was no comment regarding their action.

The Russian social media site VKontakte, which has a larger user base in the country than Facebook, has also faced pressure from the Russian authorities. VKontakte is now controlled by supporters of President Putin. The site’s founder Pavel Durov, left his company and fled the country for a time due to government pressure to provide user information.

Although Facebook would like to increase its user base in Russia, the social media company has already bowed to pressure from the country’s government on several occasions. During the later half of 2013 they blocked four pieces of content in Russia. In the first half of 2014, that figure rose to 29.

Facebook bending to Russia’s pressure to block the page which supported the political critic Navalny, may only be one of many changes to come. Russia has introduced new legislation which requires foreign websites to store their data on servers within the country. With the deadline to comply approaching, a Twitter representative has reportedly visited Moscow to discuss the details.

By Monica Grant

Sources:
ABC News
The Economic Times
The Washington Post

Photo by Dave Rutt – Flicker License

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