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Putin signs law requiring foreign social media giants to set up Russian offices

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an annual televised phone-in with the country’s citizens “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin” at the Moscow’s World Trade Center studio in Moscow on June 30, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

President Vladimir Putin has signed a law requiring foreign social media giants to set up physical offices in Russia or face harsh penalties, ranging from advertising bans to being fully blocked in the country, amid their failures to address Moscow’s concerns over the distribution of illegal contents.

“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,” said the new law, according to a document published by the government on Thursday.

In total, about 20 foreign companies, including firms like Facebook and Twitter, neither of which currently have offices in Russia, may be affected by the new law, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.

Russian lawmakers have also identified YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram as being among the 20 platforms.

Starting on January 1, 2022, the law would apply to internet giants with a daily audience in Russia of at least 500,000 people, said Alexander Khinshtein, the head of the information policy and IT committee at the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

According to Khinshtein, the firms must register a personal account on the website of Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator.

Putin signed the law “on the activities of foreign persons on the internet within Russian territory” as Russian courts continued issuing expensive fines against Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok for failing to delete banned content.

Earlier this year, Putin criticized the social media companies for becoming so powerful that they “compete” with sovereign states.

The Russian president said on Wednesday that Russia has no intention of banning Western social media platforms, but stressed that the Russian government merely wants them to abide by the law, promptly remove inappropriate content and open offices in Russia.

“We tell them: ‘You’re spreading child pornography, or instructions on (how to commit) suicide, or how to create Molotov cocktails. ... You must take it down,’” Putin said, speaking at an annual televised phone-in with the country’s citizens.

“And they simply don’t listen, don’t want to listen to what we tell them. But this is wrong,” he added.

On Monday, Russia filed new charges against Facebook, Google, Telegram and Twitter over their failure to delete content deemed illegal by Moscow.

According to Interfax news agency, three administrative charges related to a failure to remove content were registered against Alphabet's Google at the Tagansky District Court in Moscow, with the tech giant facing a total fine of 12 million roubles ($166,210).

Messaging app Telegram faces three charges as well, with a total fine of up to 16 million roubles.

Two charges were also registered against both Facebook and Twitter.

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