Facebook and Google exposed to record fines for not removing unlawful content in Russia

Facebook and Google exposed to record fines for not removing unlawful content in Russia
Russia's telecoms regulator Roskomnadzor is threatening to hit Google and Facebook with massive fines if they don't delete objectionable content, some of it political. / wiki
By East West Digital News in Moscow October 7, 2021

Russia could impose record fines on Facebook and Google (held responsible for YouTube) for not removing prohibited content. Since these companies are accused of repeated violations, fines could be in the range of 1/20 to 1/10 of the yearly revenues they generate in Russia, reports East-West Digital News (EWDN).

Thus Facebook, which makes around RUB10bn ($138mn) per year in the country, according to an expert estimate cited by Vedomosti, could have to pay anything between RUB500mn ($6.9mn) and RUB1bn ($13.7mn). A court decision is still required to enact the fines.

In an exchange with the business daily, a representative of Roskomnadzor, the internet and telecom regulator, described the violations as follows:

“YouTube systematically fails to comply with the requirements to remove prohibited content. Since 2014, more than 3,000 illegal materials containing child pornography, suicidal, drug-related, fake, extremist and other content that are dangerous for Russian citizens have not been removed.”

“Facebook Instagram and Facebook have not removed over 2,000 illegal materials, including those containing child pornography, suicidal, drug-related, extremist content.”

“Extremist” is how the authorities now tend to refer to any anti-Kremlin content. They have engaged in a power struggle with Apple and Google, in particular, to have them remove a sensitive app produced by their opponents in the run-up to the September parliamentary election.

Growing pressure

Since the beginning of this year, Russian courts have been actively fining international online giants — from Facebook, to Google, to TikTok, to Twitter — for failing to remove unlawful content or to store personal data inside the country. However, the amounts have been rather modest so far, in the range of a few dozens of thousand US dollars.

Thus, in this period, Facebook has been targeted in 19 matters related to prohibited content. Russian courts imposed fines on the company totaling about RUB70mn (less than $1mn), of which RUB43mn can already be legally be enforced. Facebook did not pay the fines, however, Roskomnadzor said.

In an exchange with Vedomosti, legal expert Alexander Zhuravlev said that collecting fines from foreign companies is difficult when these do not have an official representative office or a subsidiary in Russia — which is the case of Facebook and Twitter.

However, this obstacle could be lifted by a new legislation that regulates the activity of large-traffic foreign sites and apps in Russia. Starting from 2022, their owners will be required to open a representative office in Russia.

Another fresh law establishes the “self-control” of social networks, mandating them to identify, moderate and block prohibited content on their own, i.e. without a court decision. Facebook, Instagram, Likee, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube are concerned, as well as top Russian social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki.


This article first appeared in East-West Digital News (EWDN), a bne IntelliNews partner publication.