In Russia, the question of the potential blocking of the popular YouTube video hosting, which remains the second most visited resource not only in the country, but throughout the world, has again been raised. This time, a statement that the service will soon be unavailable to Russians, and its users will allegedly be punished, was made by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin. However, talks about banning YouTube have been going on for a long time, but access to it is still open to Russian users.
On January 18, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a prominent businessman and founder of PMC Wagner, made a loud statement that YouTube video hosting would be closed in Russia in the near future. In his opinion, the service is still available primarily due to the fact that, as Prigozhin said, there are many people in the presidential administration who expect Russia to lose in the current conflict. He threatened “Wagner’s sledgehammer” to those who oppose the closure of the video hosting, and on the contrary, he described the people who support blocking YouTube as “ordinary Russian people.” The second reason for the availability of the service, the businessman called an erroneous, in his opinion, opinion about the absence of an alternative. As such, Prigozhin suggested using RuTube, Odnoklassniki and Ya.Video.
Yevgeny Prigozhin: “No matter how hard they break their teeth, the bastards who pretend to participate, but actually interfere with us in a special operation, who wear Russian flags on May 9, but place relatives abroad and go to Dubai to play golf, in YouTube will be closed soon. And those who actively use YouTube, in turn, will be identified and will suffer their well-deserved punishment after it is banned.”
The businessman called the service an “information plague” and also noted that 40% of its content is political in nature and directed against Russia.
By the way, on December 5, Prigozhin turned to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation Igor Krasnov, asking him to check the activities of the video hosting. The entrepreneur drew attention to the fact that the platform allegedly disseminates “inaccurate socially significant information under the guise of reliable messages”, as well as information “aimed at discrediting the execution of their powers by the state bodies of the Russian Federation”.
Earlier on the same day, the prospects for blocking YouTube in Russia were assessed by the head of Gazprom-Media, Alexander Zharov, in an interview with RBC. He stated that this step would be justified if the service continues to violate the laws of the Russian Federation. As the media manager pointed out, it is important to understand where the user flow will go if YouTube is not available to them. According to him, some users will reorient themselves to Rutube, some will continue to use the usual resource, but through a VPN, and some “simply will not go anywhere.” At the same time, Zharov refused to consider RuTube a full-fledged replacement for YouTube.
Oleg Matveychev, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy, commenting on Prigozhin’s statement, in turn, called on Russians to prepare for blocking video hosting. He recalled that the service does not pay fines and blocks individual Russian users. As the parliamentarian believes, the site is a weapon of information warfare, and “there should be no foreign enemy resources in our information space.” Matveychev urged Russian users to prepare for the alleged blocking of YouTube and refocus on Russian resources. At the same time, his colleague on the committee, Yevgeny Popov, said that, according to his information, the State Duma is not discussing the issue of shutting down YouTube in Russia.
The idea of blocking is not supported by the Ministry of Digital Development either. The head of the department, Maksut Shadayev, who previously expressed the relevant point of view, said that the position of the ministry on this matter has not changed. Both in May and in October they said that they did not plan to close YouTube.
After the start of the Russian special operation in Ukraine, the Russian press repeatedly appeared about the possible blocking of YouTube, but the corresponding information was never confirmed. In particular, on March 18, RIA Novosti reported, citing its own source close to Roskomnadzor, that video hosting would not be available to Russian users, but no blocking occurred. Then State Duma deputy Alexander Khinshtein expressed the hope that the service would not be completely closed in Russia. After the blocking of popular social networks in the Russian Federation, many politicians and experts did not rule out that YouTube would be next, but this never happened.
In May, the 14News Telegram channel reported, citing the Roskomnadzor administration for Yakutia, that the agency had already begun to slow down YouTube traffic in Russia, but this was denied by the RKN.
In July, a member of the Council under the President of the Russian Federation, Igor Ashmanov, admitted that the blocking would still take place, but only after RuTube and VK Video were set up.
Andrei Klishas, head of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building, told Izvestiya that if the service continues to violate Russian laws, it will have to be closed. At the same time, the senator called video hosting a quality platform, but noted that it is here that a significant number of fakes about the special operation are spread.
Interestingly, against the backdrop of the “cancellation” of Russia and the departure of a number of large companies from it, YouTube decided to continue working in the Russian Federation. As the company’s CEO Susan Wojcicki said, amid the ongoing CBO, the service considers it necessary to maintain its presence in Russia and provide Russian users with “independent news”.
By the way, according to the VTsIOM poll, which was conducted in April 2022, the WhatsApp messenger, which belongs to the banned in Russia and recognized extremist organization Meta*, and YouTube are the most popular among Russians. The messenger is used by 87% of respondents, video hosting – 75%. In Runet, the resource is second only to Yandex.
Over the past two years, YouTube has faced a number of fines. In particular, in July 2022, the FAS imposed a fine of 21.7 billion rubles on the owner of the service, Google. Such a harsh penalty was caused by the corporation’s abuse of the dominant position of video hosting in terms of blocking accounts. A few months earlier, at the end of December 2021, a court ruled to fine Google 7.2 billion rubles because the company refused to remove certain content. According to data from the documents that appeared in court, the amount of the fine is 3% of the annual income of the corporation.
Russian courts began to impose fines for not removing prohibited content only in 2021. This was preceded by the appearance in the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation of the corresponding article – 13.41. A turnover fine is imposed if the resources systematically ignore the requirements of the regulator and do not block publications that violate the law. At first, they are given relatively small fines, but if the situation does not change, the court decides on a fine in the form of a certain percentage of the company’s revenue.
In 2023, Roskomnadzor will allocate more than 1 billion rubles to create a system that monitors how faithfully providers comply with the regulator’s prohibitions. It will take two years to develop. This step is part of the measures aimed at creating a sovereign Internet, where the RKN will determine what content is unacceptable for the citizens of the Russian Federation, and what content is allowed. It cannot be ruled out that in the future the regulator will attempt to block some foreign services, including YouTube, but this can be technically very problematic.