YouTube Threatens To Block Russian Protest Group’s Anti-War Content

Questions are being raised about Google’s co-operation with Russia’s Putin regime, after a leading Russian rights group was issued a content warning notice by YouTube.

Reuters reported that OVD-Info, an independent protest monitoring network, has shared with it an email from YouTube in early May that said the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor had found anti-war content on its channel that violated a law on information technology.

The warning notice from YouTube comes despite the fact that Google has withdrawn from Russia, after the Putin regime seized its local bank account, as part of Moscow’s ongoing dispute with Western tech firms.

YouTube threat

According to the Reuters report, one of the YouTube channels of OVD-Info that features news on Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine, had been threatened by YouTube.

The Google service reportedly threatened to block its access inside Russia.

“If you do not remove the content, Google may be required to block it,” Alphabet YouTube wrote, according to screenshots of an email shared with Reuters.

The email did not specify which part of the law OVD-Info was accused of violating.

The channel in question is called Kak Teper (What’s Going On), and reportedly has 100,000 subscribers and features interviews with Russian opposition figures and political news segments that often touch on the war.

“We are consulting with YouTube and Google and trying to explain that the demand to block our channel is an act of political censorship,” OVD-Info spokesperson Dmitrii Anisimov was quoted as saying by Reuters.

He said the group’s other YouTube channel was not affected.

Contacted by Reuters two times about Youtube’s discussions with OVD-Info, a spokesperson for YouTube reportedly did not respond.

The spokesperson reportedly answered separate questions about three other opposition channels which had videos blocked.

Russia withdraw

The action by YouTube has raised questions as to whether Alphabet/Google continues to co-operate with the Putin regime, despite it withdrawing from Russia last year.

Like many Western technology firms, Google had quit Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, pulling its staff, closing its local office, and suspending all advertising sales, including on YouTube.

Trouble began in May 2022 when Russian bailiffs seized 7.7bn roubles ($849,695) from Google that had been ordered as part of a fine calculated on the basis of the company’s annual turnover – the first time such a fine had been levied in Russia.

Soon after that Google declared its Russian subsidiary bankrupt after Russian authorities seized its main Russian bank account and transferred the funds out of the account, leaving it with no funds to pay contractors or staff.

Google had already moved most of its employees out of the country and closed down its local office.

Google has been fined millions of dollars by Russia, over its repeated refusals to remove content that Russia deems illegal, such as “fake news” about Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Google also stopped selling online advertising in Russia in March 2022, but its free services such as Google search, YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Android and Play are still available in the country.

YouTube therefore remains of one of the few western technology platforms able to deliver factual news to Russian citizens – free from Russian propaganda – much to Moscow’s chagrin.

YouTube has also blocked channels connected to Russian state-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik, following the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

RT is a Russian state-controlled television network funded by the federal tax budget of the Putin regime.

Social media bans

Reuters noted that Russia has blocked the vast majority of foreign social media platforms, but has stopped short of blocking YouTube, despite fining the platform repeatedly for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal.

YouTube has tens of millions of monthly users in Russia and blocking the entire platform could prove highly unpopular.

Reuters cited Russian independent media reporting on Monday that YouTube had deleted videos from three other channels that provided information on how to evade Russian military service.

Two of the groups told Reuters their content had been reinstated within a day after the media reports.

When contacted by Reuters about the videos, the YouTube spokesperson replied by email: “The content in question has been reinstated to YouTube,” without elaborating.

OVD-Info’s Kak Teper would be the first Russian human rights channel to be banned on YouTube, as opposed to just a few videos, according to Natalia Krapiva, tech legal counsel at global digital rights non-profit Access Now.

“We will not have any YouTube to fight for anymore if all the civil society is blocked there,” Krapiva told Reuters in a phone interview.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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