Reddit has had a pretty bizarre last few days in Russia.
The entire site was blacklisted and banned yesterday for a number of users in Russia following a clear threat made by Russia’s FCC, the Roskomnadzor, to remove a thread about growing psychedelic mushrooms that had been posted on the site.
Roskomnadzor’s post on Vkontakte (basically the Russian Facebook) read:
Those who have contacts with the [Reddit] administration – ask them to check their email for messages from Roskomnadzor, otherwise… a number of operators may block the entire site.
Late yesterday, it was reported that the site had been blocked in its entirety for many users depending on their ISP, after being placed on a government blacklist. Yet, within hours the site was mysteriously unbanned, leading many users to question what was actually going on.
Well apparently, following the blacklisting, Reddit checked their email and quickly took action, removing access to the offending post.
According to another Vkontakte announcement from Roskomnadzor today:
On August 13, federal officials received on their “hot line” a message from the site’s administrators saying Internet users in Russia no longer have access to the illegal content. Roskomnadzor has confirmed [Reddit’s] full compliance, and accordingly removed the website from the registry of illegal online materials.
This is a move that was placed in some contention by Reddit users who believed that Reddit should have kept the post up as a statement on free speech, something that the company has said isn’t exactly its top priority these days.
Things got interesting when u/rsocfan, the user who actually posted the mushroom-growing thread, popped up and began answering questions about how he single-handedly got Reddit banned in Russia.
Before news of the site’s unbanning broke, he talked about the moves he thought Reddit should take:
Will I remove this post? No. I also think that Reddit administration needs to do nothing. This is important issue on freedom of speech, and only RKN want to violate it.
After staying pretty quiet for a bit, a spokesperson for Reddit responded to TechCrunch today on the weird situation that has been unfolding:
Reddit is a US company that operates a website with millions of users, posts, and comments. We regularly receive government requests around the world to remove content from Reddit and closely review these requests considering applicable local laws.
We want to ensure our services are available to users everywhere but if we receive a valid request from an authorized entity, we reserve the right to restrict content in a particular country.
This is pretty much an admission from Reddit that yeah, they’ve been pretty busy lately, and that their small team doesn’t have eyes on all of the government requests pouring in. It is a little odd though that they’re so matter of fact in talking about takedowns of content at the behest of governments, especially non-hate speech, non-violent content like a thread about growing drugs.
One thing that is clear is that Russia doesn’t play around though when it comes to speech encouraging drug use online. In 2013, Roskomnadzor blacklisted Wikipedia in its entirety for a single article on “Cannabis smoking.”
Reddit doesn’t address concerns over restrictions of free speech from the Russian government in this statement, but instead seems to say that whatever the situation, wherever it’s posted, Reddit and Reddit alone has the final call.
It sounds like a lot of redditors are perplexed by Reddit’s right to “restrict content,” but in the time being it seems that stability, rather than free speech, is Reddit’s main priority.