Two of the most popular social media companies in the world could end up being completely banned in Russia due to a rule established in 2014 and approved by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The law states that all domestic and foreign companies which hold personal data of Russian citizens must do so on the servers located in Russia.
This law has existed for almost five years already and, as stated by Alexander Zharov, the head of “The Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications”, both of those companies have had enough time to fulfill Russia’s request. More as a warning than as a punishment, Moscow ordered Twitter and Facebook to pay fines of about $47 for refusing to obey the law.
This action, as funny as it is, is just a way of telling Facebook and Twitter that they are not joking because that fine is the minimum allowed. Zharov warned that the fines will be increasing with time. One thing companies hate more than not earning money is losing money. This situation put both of these companies in a compromising position.
One of the biggest reasons why the law was passed in the first place is the iron fist the Russian government holds their citizens with. Both Twitter and Facebook are known as platforms where anti-Putin opposition meets up and plan demonstrations.
As weird as it sounds, in Russia, Facebook and Twitter are one of the biggest safehouses for public speech, and probably the only ones still left. This puts both companies in a situation where they can either pack their services and go, or “sell” their users to the Russian government and keep making a profit. It is nothing new for a whole service to be completely blocked in Russia for this exact reason, but never before have companies been referred to as directly. Especially because Facebook in Russia is not as widely used as its Russian-controlled counterpart VKontakte, which has up to 10 times more users.
Currently, there is nothing that can be done but to wait for the companies’ decisions. If servers fall under Moscow’s jurisdiction, they will have access to data about the opposition and will even further increase the censorship.
There were even threats focused on VPN providers, they were to either block access to websites banned in Russia or get banned in Russia themselves.
All we can hope for is that freedom of speech wins over total censorship.