Russia threatens Facebook with huge fines

The Russian authorities continue to tighten the regulatory noose on major foreign Internet platforms, preparing the ground for the cleansing of the network space and the transition to the "Russian sovereign Internet".

After threatening to block YouTube, the Russian media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, announced plans to dramatically increase fines for Facebook, claiming that the Internet giant failed to comply with the Kremlin’s numerous requests to remove certain content.

The fine for Facebook can be one tenth of its total revenue, the Russian newspaper Vedomosti reports, citing Roskomnadzor’s press service.

On October 4, Facebook’s representatives were summoned by Roskomnadzor to be informed about the violations of the Russian information laws. Experts estimate Facebook's revenue in Russia to be within 12 billion rubles ($160 million).

The rules on negotiable fines have been in force in Russia since December 2020. For repeated refusal to remove content, which Russian authorities deemed as having calls for extremism, child pornography and drug use, the amount increases from 10% to 20% of revenue.

In Facebook’s case, it will be about 1.2 billion rubles ($16 million) and 2.4 billion rubles ($33 million), respectively.

According to Roskomnadzor, Facebook’s and Instagram ‘s administrations failed to remove "more than 2,000 illegal materials, including those containing child pornography, suicidal, pro-drug, extremist content." Roskomnadzor said that 19 violation reports have been drawn up against Facebook since the beginning of 2021.

According to Roskomnadzor, Facebook has not paid anything out of the court-imposed fines totaling about 70 million rubles ($960,000), of which court decisions for 43 million rubles ($590,605) have already entered into force.

The Russian authorities have also been trying to collect fines of 26 million ($357,110) from Twitter, and 26 million rubles from Google for failure to remove content.

In August, Facebook and Twitter  were also fined 15 million ($206,025) and 17 million rubles ($233,495) for failure to localize the user data.

“The fine that the Russian court might impose on Facebook will not be easy to collect in Russia,” said Alexander Zhuravlev, chairman of the digital economy commission of the Moscow branch of the Russian Bar Association. "The main problem in collecting fines is that some foreign IT companies do not have an official representative office or branches in Russia, so it is difficult for bailiffs to collect the fines," Zhuravlev said.

However, the Kremlin is ready to resort to more stringent measures to enforce its rules.

Since the beginning of 2022, foreign IT companies with a daily audience of more than 500 thousand users are required to open offices in Russia. Otherwise, they may face punishment up to partial or complete blocking.

  Facebook, Roskomnadzor, Russia