YouTube has begun blocking opposition content at the request of the Russian authorities

20 мая 2024

YouTube has blocked three videos on military service evasion from the channels Dozor v Volgograde (‘Volgograd Watch’), Shkola Prizyvnika (‘Conscript School’) and another independent regional media outlet in Russia. The video hosting also notified the OVD-Info channel about the threat of blocking, which may be the first case of blocking an entire channel of such kind. YouTube has not blocked opposition content at the request of the Russian authorities before, says a cybersecurity expert who wished to remain unnamed.


Details. Our source said that the removal of human rights content at the request of the Russian government rather than because of violations of Google’s or Western countries’ policies is a new trend.

  • Four blocking notices studied by Agentstvo say that YouTube received a notification from Roskomnadzor (RKN) that the channel’s content violates the Federal Law ‘On Information’. In all cases, the website administration suggests to look for more detailed information in the Russian register of banned sites.
  • Videos of all the projects that have faced blocking include the topic of draft evasion or mobilisation, the expert said.
  • On the Dozor v Volgograde channel (29 thousand subscribers) YouTube blocked the videos ‘How to hide from the military commissariat (resisting mobilisation: part 3)’ (it managed to gain 255 thousand views) and ‘Evade [military service] correctly’ (313 thousand views), said the project’s creator Evgeny Kochegin. The channel received the first blocking notice in December 2023. In late February, YouTube forwarded the actual demand of the RKN. In it the blocking was justified by the the fact the channel distributed «information about the ways and methods of evasion from military conscription service». On 15 March, a second video on the channel was blocked. Kochegin said that he would try to challenge the blocking, but did not hope for success. On Sunday, Agentstvo was unable to contact Kochegin.
  • On the Shkola Prizyvnika channel (21 thousand subscribers) YouTube blocked the video ‘Criminal Code will help evade military service’ (6 thousand views).
  • Agentstvo’s source said that in the deleted video of this independent regional media, an expert answered questions on how to avoid conscription.
  • OVD-Info received a notice from YouTube in early May. In it the video hosting informed that it had received a notification from the Russian Federal Tax Service about blocking of the channel Kak Teper? (‘What to do now?’, 99,000 subscribers). Before that, Roskomnadzor said it had blocked five OVD-Info resources in Russia, including two more of the project’s YouTube channels in addition to Kak Teper?. «As far as we know <…> this is the first case in Russia when the RKN demands to block the channel in its entirety, rather than any particular video,’ OVD-Info spokesman Dmitry Anisimov told Agentstvo. — We are now consulting with Google and trying to explain that this demand to block our channel is illegal and a manifestation of politically motivated censorship. We hope that YouTube will not block our channel, because in this case it will be lost irrevocably with all of its subscribers».
  • There is no way out of such a ban for independent media and human rights projects, says a cybersecurity expert.

Context. The blocking of YouTube channels dedicated to human rights may mean a change in the video hosting’s stance on responding to the demands of the Russian authorities. In 2021, following the Russian authorities’ demands to block OVD-Info’s media resources, human rights organisations sent enquiries to Twitter, Meta and Google, the cybersecurity expert said. Twitter and Meta replied that they follow not only local laws, but also their own moderation policy and the International Convention on Human Rights and would not block OVD-Info’s accounts. Google has not responded to the enquiries, but has not blocked anything either back then, the source said.

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