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Russia threatens Wikipedia with fines over “false information”


Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2021.
Enlarge / Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2021.

RAMIL SITDIKOV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s censorship authority, issued another demand on Tuesday for Wikipedia to remove what it called “unreliable socially significant information.” The agency warned that failure to comply could lead to fines of up to 4 million rubles ($50,000).

The Wikimedia Foundation did not immediately respond to an email from Ars seeking comment. But the organization made its stance plain last month after the Russian government made similar demands. A March 3 statement on the Wikimedia website declared that “we will not back down in the face of efforts to censor and intimidate members of our movement.”

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the government tightened its already strict media censorship regime. In early March, President Vladimir Putin signed legislation prohibiting the publication of “fake news.” Violators could face prison terms of as long as 15 years. Passage of the law led a number of Western media organizations to suspend reporting in Russia.

Russian media is prohibited from describing the invasion of Ukraine as an invasion or a war; “special military operation” is the preferred euphemism. Russia blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, and a number of Western media outlets in March.

Roskomnadzor warned Wikipedia last week to stop “misinforming Russian users.” In a Tuesday statement, the agency complained that “Wikipedia has become a new line of constant information attacks on Russians.”

“The authors of articles posted on Wikipedia deliberately misinform users of the Internet resource with false information,” the agency wrote. “In the articles published on the resource, an exclusively anti-Russian interpretation of events is promoted.”

In recent days, the Russian military has faced outrage for atrocities it allegedly committed as troops evacuated positions near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Evidence includes civilian bodies found lying in the streets of the Ukrainian town of Bucha. The Russian government claims photos from Bucha were staged by Ukraine.

Roskomnadzor has also been feuding with YouTube, one of the few Western platforms still accessible from Russia. On March 29, Roskomnadzor said that YouTube “has become one of the key platforms participating in the information war against Russia.” The government not only complained about supposed misinformation on YouTube; it also demanded that YouTube reinstate channels owned by the Russian government and state-funded Russian media. YouTube shut down a number of channels belonging to RT and other state-funded media on March 11.

Last month, Belarus, one of Russia’s closest allies in the Ukraine invasion, arrested one of the most prolific editors of the Russian-language version of Wikipedia. He had made more than 200,000 edits to Russian Wikipedia over a decade and had been active in debates over articles about the Ukraine invasion.

Tim Lee was on staff at Ars from 2017 to 2021. In 2021, he launched Full Stack Economics, an independent email newsletter about the economy, technology, and public policy. You can subscribe to his newsletter here.



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