Russia threatened to block YouTube unless the video platform restores two German-language channels.
The channels are managed by RT, Russia’s state media company, and were taken down by the Google-owned company for publishing allegedly false information regarding COVID-19 and the vaccines.
RT — originally known as Russia Today after its launch in 2005 — is state-funded and has broadcasters and websites in languages including English, French, Spanish and Arabic. It has been banned in Lithuania and Latvia, which were formerly part of the Soviet Union.
Roskomnadzor, the nation’s communication ministry, told Google in a letter that Russia may fully or partially restrict YouTube or fine Google if the company did not lift the restrictions on the channels.
The letter followed a request from the Russian trade minister, who called the purge an “act of unprecedented information aggression,” according to ABC News.
“Considering the nature of the incident, which is fully in line with the logic of the information warfare unleashed against Russia, taking retaliatory symmetrical measures against the German media in Russia would seem not just an appropriate, but also a necessary thing to do,” RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said in a statement.
“German chancellor, Angela Merkel’s spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, responded by saying the German government had ‘nothing to do with’ YouTube’s move and warned Moscow against potential retaliation against German media in Russia,” reports The Guardian.
In its own statement, YouTube said the channels in question – RT DE and Der Fehlende Part – had previously received a week-long suspension for violating misinformation rules.
“The latest move follows similar bans or suspensions by YouTube of other news outlets. In August, Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News Australia was banned from posting new videos and live-streaming on YouTube for a week after violating the platform’s policies by sharing clips that allegedly spread misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic,” per The Washington Post.
YouTube did not say which video had violated its policies.
Russia’s outrage comes after Google and Apple capitulated to the Kremlin’s demand that they remove voting apps created by jailed Vladimir Putin-critic Alexei Navalny’s organization.
In addition to deleting the apps, Google also remove two YouTube videos from the site related to the parliamentary elections, called Smart Voting.
Twitter, Google, and Facebook were also subjected to fines in March after Roskomnadzor blocked dozens of websites related to Navalny, his organization, and other critics of President Vladimir Putin. The Russian government slowed down Twitter’s services.
A Moscow district court fined Google an additional 6.5 million rubles ($89,000 USD) for failing to remove banned content.
Liberal Russians viewed increasing pressure as a step toward censorship as the Kremlin tightens control of the internet.