MOSCOW, March 11 (Alexey Eremenko, RIA Novosti) – A Russian state watchdog accused of unfairly censoring thousands of websites defended its actions on Monday, claiming that censorship is an efficient way of preventing suicide among minors.
Figures for suicides and suicide attempts among Russian minors have grown 35 percent over the past few years, the Federal Consumer Protection Service said in a press release, without elaborating on the timeframe.
Online promotion of suicide “is significantly influencing statistics of children’s suicides,” the watchdog said, without providing any figures.
Some websites fail to support the campaign against suicide promotion, the service said. It named no names, but promised to publish, at an unspecified later date, a list of worst offenders.
Internet censorship became a topic of much online controversy in Russia after a new law that came into force last November allowed extrajudicial blacklisting of web content deemed to be promoting suicide, pedophilia or drug use.
About 4,500 websites are currently blacklisted by Russian governmental agencies, even though about 95 percent of them are not guilty of any wrongdoing, according to Rublacklist.net, a project of the unregistered Pirate Party of Russia that tracks online censorship.
Yhe Federal Consumer Protection Service, which runs the blacklist, blocks websites by their numeric IP address, which can be shared by hundreds of websites – all of which are banned every time an offender gets targeted by the government.
Ban criteria have also been called into question: Websites blacklisted since November include a photo report about a political activist’s self-immolation in Tibet; a 15-year-old comic tune parodying Russian goth rock; and a YouTube manual of how to create slashed wrists make-up for Halloween. The make-up video prompted YouTube’s owner Google to take the Federal Consumer Protection Service to court in February, the case currently pending review.
Sarcastic-minded bloggers have even produced a “universal macros picture for blacklisting websites in Russian Federation,” complete with innocent pictures of toddlers titled “child porn” and instructions on how to commit suicide by ramming a brick wall with one’s head. The joke was lost on the authorities, which promptly blacklisted as many copies of the picture as they could.
The Federal Consumer Protection Service denounced online pranksters in a separate press release Monday, claiming that they “undermine the government’s authority.” The agency also pledged to continue the blacklisting campaign in order to save children’s lives.
But Pirate Party of Russia co-founder and deputy head Stanislav Shakirov slammed the blacklisting effort as “populist.”
“They’re aiming to tighten control over the web,” Shakirov told RIA Novosti. “And as for the minors, they commit suicide because of social ills, not something they’ve read on the Internet.”