On Wednesday 6 March, Russian deputies voted in favor of a bill that would make it illegal to post ‘fake news’ online.
The proposed bill involves fining any online ‘offenders’ for posting false information. This includes digital media outlets as well as ordinary websites, although newspapers, television networks, radio stations, and online news aggregators are exempt.
The fines in place vary depending on how threatening the Russian government deems the ‘fake news’ to be. For individuals, they range from up to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for less serious offenses, 300,00 rubles ($4,550) for those leading to a disruption in vital facilities, to 400,000 rubles (over $6,000) if someone were to die as a result of the false information being spread. For officials and organizations, these fines are far higher (up to 1.5 million rubles, or $22,800).
According to this new legislation, fake news is officially defined as “untruthful socially significant information disguised as authentic reports, which pose a threat to people’s lives and health and is fraught with mass violations of public order and security, disruption in the operation of crucial life support facilities, transport and social infrastructures or other grave consequences.”
Anyone caught posting this sort of information will be ordered by Roskomnadzor (Russia’s communications watchdog) to delete it instantly. The definition of ‘instantly’ will vary on a case-by-case basis, but the time limit is likely to be around 24 hours for the majority. If the ‘fake news’ isn’t taken down within this period of time, the website will be blocked.
The vote’s final tally was 327 in favor versus 42 opposed, and today the Russian State Duma passed the third reading of the legislation. The Federation Council will then pass it on to President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to approve it as a law.
Leonid Levin, a Russian-born computer scientist, outlined the importance of giving media outlets time to delete the offending information themselves before Roskomnadzor takes any further action. He believes that “if the aim had been to block them, then believe me nobody would have introduced this amendment”.
This isn’t the first time Russia has taken measures like this. There are several other procedures in place in the country that threaten to block websites that publish certain types of content. The most recent example of this, which prohibits internet users from insulting Russian state officials, gives website owners 24 hours to remove any information deemed defamatory.