Ukraine Bans Russian Social Media Networks
16 May, 2017

The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has signed a National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine decree from April 28, 2017, which will block access to Russian social media sites "VKontakte" and "Odnoklassniki".

All "Yandex" services have also been banned, as well as the business management software, 1C.

"Vkontakte" and "Yandex" have yet to comment on the ban.

Access to Russian social media sites have been blocked within the constraints imposed on the " Group". Providers will also have to block access to the site.

The Russian sites for antivirus companies "Kaspersky Lab" and "DrWeb" will also be blocked.

Sanctions will also be imposed on the television channels belonging to the Russian media group "RBC, Information Systems", these include: "TV Centre", "The All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company", "NTV Plus", "REN TV" and "Zvezda". The sanctions will come into effect from the date of their publication.

According to "Ukraine Crisis Media Centre," Vitalii Moroz, Head of New Media at NGO "Internews Ukraine," said that the ban is a response from the Ukrainian government to the Russian informational threat. Although these threats are real, experts doubt that the decree is a good response.

“This will be a significant blow to Internet freedom in Ukraine, and the country will deteriorate significantly its rating in the eyes of the international community,” added Moroz.

Ukrainian wireless operator ‘Kyivstar’ has started preparations to implement the bill, they told Hromadske.

“We must implement the decision of the President of Ukraine. Now we are negotiating the technical possibilities of doing it,” the press service informed Hromadske.

Ukrainian telecom firm ‘Ukrtelekom’ has also begun work to block Russian website under sanctions.

"The process is quite complicated, it requires time, requiring huge amount of resources. The work has already started,” said ‘Ukrtelekom’ Director of Corporate Communications Mykhailo Shuranov. He added that it could take from couple of days to a week.

This is how Ukrainian sociologist Dmytro Shulga commented on the situation:

"My very humble opinion is that I strongly disagree with those claims about 'restricting media freedom'. Russian FSB-controlled social networks can't be compared as peers with Facebook etc. It's the same as comparing Russia Today and CNN claiming they are examples of free media.

Ukrainian users are free to use any other social networks which are not controlled by Ukrainian government. So where is attack on the freedom of the media? That you can't use your FSB-controlled account?

Ukrainian users of Vkontakte claim they have better services compared with Facebook, especially as regards free music content - this is the biggest comparative advantage of Vkontakte, according to most users' comments. But this is exactly the same breach of intellectual property rights which was the reason why the West pushed on Ukrainian authorities to shut down EX.UA service.

The need to shut down those Russian channels of internet influence was evident back in 2014. But just imagine what sort of international outcry about 'bloody Kyiv junta' that would bear. I truly hope now we have a better understanding abroad of what is Russian threat and what is Ukraine today.

Finally, the government has done what it had to do long before - without highly probable risk of being accused of 'escalating the conflict', 'provoking Russia' and 'attack on the freedoms'.

Just a couple of examples why Russian websites and social networks constitute a threat:

Of course, in the ideal world, Ukrainian users should be much more self-conscious and refuse from using Russia-controlled media. But the reality is much more complicated. Frankly, I miss EX.UA as a user. But it does not mean I complain about lack of media freedom."

Ukraine is now among the 30 countries in the world that ban certain social media sites. However, according the the American organisation "Freedom House", there are 24 such states.

User access to social media is restricted in 38 countries. Also, 38 countries can arrest their citizens for posting certain information on social media.

On May 4, 2017 the Halyzkiy district court in the city of Lviv sentenced someone to two and half years in prison for posting communist slogans on social media.

According to the research company Gemius, 10.8 million people over the age of 14 use “Yandex” online services in Ukraine, excluding mobile.

According to Kantar TNS CMeter, 78% of all internet users in Ukraine use “VKontakte” (based on data from April 2017). That constitutes at least 20 million users. In total, the list affects 468 companies and 1,228 individuals.

The ban will last for a period of one to three years. The decree takes effect from the date of its publication.

As of 2016, eight countries have banned Facebook, 12 countries have banned the messenger app "WhatsApp" and "Telegram" is also banned in four countries.

China, Syria, Iran, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have the strictest restrictions on social media.

Ukraine is ranked as "partly free" in terms of internet freedom.

However, it is quite difficult to limit online access, which is why some governments have set up special institutions. For example, China has the Communist party-controlled "online-wall", which has a set of legal and technological functions. Russia has "RosKomNadzor", a federal body which controls internet freedom.