Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on social media platforms not to comply with the Russian media regulator’s “draconian” demand for the deletion of accounts held by OVD-Info, a nonprofit that monitors police arrests nationwide, amid a broad crackdown on independent media and civic organizations.
Russian authorities stepped up their “war on reliable and independent online reporting” when the state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor blocked access to the OVD-Info site in December, the Paris-based media-freedom watchdog said in statement on January 20.
Roskomnadzor also called on social media platforms to shut down OVD-Info’s accounts, which RSF said “would result in its complete disappearance.”
Among other things, OVD-Info documents detentions during protests and cases of political harassment and has served as a clearinghouse connecting detained protesters with defense attorneys.
This media outlet “is used as a reference source by many publications and NGOs both in Russia and internationally,” RSF said.
“After eliminating nearly all independent media by targeting their owners to influence editorial policy, censoring articles, and blocking websites by means of both judicial and extrajudicial methods, the Russian authorities are now targeting social media platforms,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
Roskomnadzor’s request is “unacceptable,” Cavelier said, saying it “not only violates Russia’s constitution and its international obligations, but also deprives its citizens of an information source essential to the public debate.”
“We urge Meta (Facebook and Instagram), Google (YouTube), Twitter, and Telegram to act in accordance with the principles they proclaim by refusing to delete the accounts of media outlets such OVD-Info,” she said.
RSF said Russian authorities have been “stepping up pressure on international platforms,” imposing “unprecedented” fines on Google and Facebook for displaying Roskomnadzor-banned content despite repeated requests for its removal.
Google is required to pay as much as 7.2 billion rubles ($93 million) and Facebook nearly 2 billion rubles ($26 million) for violating the country’s rules on banned content. Fines were also imposed on Twitter, TikTok, and other social media companies on similar charges.
Meanwhile, the Russian search engine Yandex no longer displays the content of OVD-Info, which has also been targeted by the Justice Ministry.
In September, the ministry added the NGO to the list of “foreign agents,” a defamatory label that has been used by the authorities to “intimidate journalists and sow confusion,” RSF said.
Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.