Facebook skirts Russian ban by taking down pro-suicide page

Facebook skirts Russian ban by taking down pro-suicide page
Facebook deleted a group promoting suicide after Russia’s communications watchdog issued a warning it would ban access to the popular social networking service across the country if it failed to remove the offending content within three days.

On Thursday, Russian media and communications watchdog Roskomnadzor for the first time added a Facebook page to its blacklist of websites with offensive content. The Russian-language group in question was dubbed ‘Suicide school,’ and published placards, cartoons and “mainly humorous” advice on suicide.

Roskomnadzor earlier confirmed to RT that it ruled that the social network should ban access to the page, in a decision based on expert analysis, the regulator’s spokesperson Vladimir Pikov said.

Asked whether access to Facebook would be banned if it failed to meet the requirement, Pikov said that Roskomnadzor will make “every effort” to ensure that the “interests of decent web users” in Russia are not harmed.

The watchdog did not have to resort to tough measures against the social network, as by Friday morning the group had become unavailable. Facebook has not officially commented on the matter.

Under the law, the watchdog has to notify the internet service provider, which in turn informs the content provider of the problem.

The content provider has three days to delete the illegal information. Otherwise, the entire web source will be banned and all Russian providers will be obliged to block access to it.

When it comes to popular international web services, though, such problems normally do not arise, Russian Deputy Communications Minister Aleksey Volin told Izvestia newspaper.

Not a single foreign company that values its reputation would want anything in common with pornography, suicides and drugs,” he added.

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The so-called Russian ‘internet blacklist’ went on-line on November 1 last year. It is a unified register of websites with content that cannot be distributed in Russia: child pornography, suicide instructions and promoting drugs. The “blacklist” is run by Roskomnadzor. Anyone can use the source to report on content they believe to be illegal and the watchdog is obliged to examine the information and decide whether it should be blocked.

The creation of the blacklist followed the signing of the law “On the Protection of Children from Information that is Harmful to their Health and Development,” in July 2012. The document stirred up a wave of bitter criticism among rights advocates, popular Russian websites and users, who feared that it would lead to censorship on the web.

Along with Roskomnadzor, the Interior Ministry, Federal Drug Control Service and Russia’s consumer rights watchdog (Rospotrebnadzor) can also rule on closing access to internet sources. As for other kinds of content, only a court can order it to be censored.   

Rospotrebnadzor is responsible for the protection of children from information about suicide. So far, it has recommended blocking about 1200 such websites or pages out of over 1600 it has examined.

YouTube, owned by Google, remains the leader of web sources that spread “banned information on committing suicide,” Rospotrebnadzor stated on Thursday. Given the popularity of the source, “it poses a serious threat to the health of children and teenagers,” the body added.

Earlier in March, the watchdog stated that around 40 % of all banned videos “were posted on YouTube video hosting.