Russia Proposal Threatens to Silence YouTube, Facebook

Russia would be able to restrict access to Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube under a draft law aimed at punishing what backers call is censorship by the U.S. platforms of Russian state-backed media.

The draft, submitted Thursday by senior lawmakers from the ruling party would allow prosecutors, in consultation with the Foreign Ministry, to designate foreign Internet platforms as breaching Russians’ rights by restricting content. Penalties would include fines, as well as partial or total limits on access to the platforms in Russia.

Since April, Russian media companies have been complaining that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were censoring their accounts, sponsors of the measure said in documents submitted with the draft law. State-backed news outlets including RT have criticized what they say is censorship by U.S. platforms, which say the measures are part of efforts to fight disinformation.

“Discriminatory actions against Russian clients of these services have taken place,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call when asked about the initiative. “This must be countered.” But he stopped short of endorsing restrictions on access, saying appropriate sanctions would be determined in the legislative process.

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny commented on the plan ironically in Twitter, writing, “Excellent. Let them pass it as soon as possible, the whole country will finally start using VPN” — virtual private network technology, which is also subject to regulation. Russian authorities currently restrict access to thousands of individual websites for content alleged to be extremist or otherwise unacceptable, but haven’t imposed limits on major platforms to date.

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