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Russia Cracks Down on Social Media

In the last few weeks, the Russian government has been turning up the heat on tech platforms in an escalation of its long-standing efforts to bring the internet under its control. First, Russia forced Apple and Google to remove an app from their app stores that would have helped voters select non-Kremlin-backed candidates in the country’s recent parliamentary elections. Then, the government threatened to block YouTube within Russia if the platform refused to reinstate two German-language channels run by the state-backed outlet RT. And after we recorded this podcast, the Russian government announced that it would fine Facebook for not being quick enough in removing content that Russia identified as illegal.

What’s driving this latest offensive, and what does it mean for the future of the Russian internet? This week on Arbiters of Truth, our series on the online information ecosystem, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke with Alina Polyakova, the president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis, and Anastasiia Zlobina, the coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. They explained what this crackdown means for social media platforms whose Russian employees might soon be at risk, the legal structures behind the Russian government’s actions and what’s motivating the Kremlin to extend its control over the internet.

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Finstas, Falsehoods and the First Amendment

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s recent testimony before Congress has set in motion a renewed cycle of outrage over the company’s practices—and a renewed round of discussion around what, if anything, Congress should do to rein Facebook in. But how workable are these proposals, really?This week on Arbiters of Truth, our series on the online information ecosystem, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke with Jeff Kosseff, an associate professor of cybersecurity law at the United States Naval Academy, and the guy that has literally written not just the book on this, but two of them. He is the author of “The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet,” a book about Section 230, and he has another book coming out next year about First Amendment protections for anonymous speech, titled “The United States of Anonymous.” So Jeff isvery well positioned to evaluate recent suggestions that Facebook should, for example, limit the ability of young people to create what users call Finstas, a second, secret Instagram account for a close circle of friends—or Haugen’s suggestion that the government should regulate how Facebook amplifies certain content through its algorithms. Jeff discussed the importance of online anonymity, the danger of skipping past the First Amendment when proposing tech reforms, and why he thinks that Section 230 reform has become unavoidable … even if that reform might not make any legal or policy sense.