Russia Threatens YouTube Over Takedown of Russian State Media’s German Language Channels

Report from Euractiv

In Brief – Russia has threatened to restrict YouTube operations in Russia and fine Google if two German-language YouTube channels operated by RT, Russia’s state media company, that have been taken down by YouTube for violating the platform’s rules against COVID and vaccine misinformation, are not restored. Russian state media has been sanctioned in the past by YouTube and other major platforms for vaccine disinformation, including a week-long YouTube suspension of RT that the outlet attempted to circumvent by shifting content to another channel. The Russian Foreign Ministry accuses the German Government with engineering the ban and has also threatened to block German media in Russia.

Context – This standoff between the Russian Government and YouTube highlights three trends to be watching. First, it comes as YouTube has announced further moves to address vaccine misinformation broadly, with a particular focus on COVID. Those topics are increasingly at the center of battles over supposed “viewpoint censorship”, whether in the USBrazil or Europe. Second, while governments often demand the platforms do more to take down objectionable content (too many example to cite) or criticize them for unfair restriction in their home market (USBrazilIndia), it is highly unusual to see a government threatening to retaliate against a platform for content moderation in another country. Finally, this is another ratcheting up of a broader conflict between the Russian Government and the platforms. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have emerged as key alternative communications hubs for political opposition to President Putin and the state controlled traditional media. The Russian competition authority charged YouTube with “opaque, biased and unpredictable” content moderation this spring and, on the eve of the recent national elections, Google and Apple removed apps used by Russian opposition parties that were banned by the government when in-country executives were threatened with arrest and criminal charges.

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