In the continuing saga and standoff between US tech giants and the Russian state, the Kremlin just took a bold, creative step in its long-running efforts to reign in foreign "propagandistic" attempts to both censor official Russian sources and at the same time promote "obscene" content, as its officials have long complained.
Russian President Putin on Thursday signed a law that seeks to force major social media companies to open offices on Russian soil if they continue to want their platforms unrestricted inside Russia.
"A foreign entity, carrying out activities on the internet in Russia, is obliged to create a branch, open an office or establish a Russian legal entity," the new law reads, according to Reuters.
More details of the law were reported in Reuters as follows:
Alexander Khinshtein, the head of the information policy and IT committee at the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, said the law applied to internet giants with a daily audience in Russia of at least 500,000 people.
The firms must register a personal account on the website of Roskomnadzor, Russia's state communications regulator, he wrote on his Telegram channel. Companies that violate the legislation could face penalties such as advertising bans.
This in effect targets at least 20 US-based and other international companies, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Telegram YouTube, and TikTok - many of which already have multi-million dollar fines against them inside Russia based on allegations they promote and elevate "banned" anti-government activity, including recent pro-Navalny protests dubbed by the state "illegal gatherings".
Putin on Wednesday actually addressed the immense power of Silicon Valley during his annual "call-in" telethon which allows citizens to ask questions of the Russian leader directly:
"We tell them 'you are distributing child pornography, instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails and suicide, you must remove that'," Putin said.
Last Spring the country began throttling Twitter speeds for some of these very issues and lack of compliance to Russian law.
“If the foreign social media companies work in our country and make good money, they must comply with our laws. We do not demand anything extra from them, but such companies must open representative offices in Russia to enable a dialogue,”— Ayelaagbe olajide (@am_i_olajide) June 30, 2021
"His company, his rule" in the mud. https://t.co/MDQgYJKsdj
While the threat of outright banning some platforms remains, many of the big platforms are so popular among Russians that it's not believed leaders could pull it off politically, given the massive domestic backlash that would ensue. Putin this week emphasized that there's currently no plans to ban social media companies, however, he stressed "they must comply with our laws" and remain available to state authorities "to enable dialogue".