Putin aide urges Russians to leave Facebook amid free speech row

Putin aide urges Russians to leave Facebook amid free speech row

10 July 2015

An aide to President Vladimir Putin has advised Russians to delete their Facebook accounts, citing concerns about censorship.

Igor Shchegolev told Russian users to switch to local alternatives to the social media site, such as VKontakte, in order to avoid having their content blocked.

Facebook recently banned several prominent Russian figures for using the word khokhly on the site. The term references the haircut traditionally sported by the Ukrainian Cossacks, and is seen by many as a demeaning name for Ukrainians. The word, which has long been in popular usage, has increasingly been interpreted as derogatory in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in the East of Ukraine. The writer Eduard Bagirov, known for his conservative views, faced a week-long ban for using the term, while deputy head of Russia’s communications watchdog Maxim Ksenzov was banned for 24 hours.

“Tolerance is fashionable at the moment, and I’m not talking about the religious notion. But I don’t want to be tolerant!! Soviet people are Soviet people. Sometimes khokhly are khokhly,” wrote Mr Ksenzov, who announced his decision to delete his Facebook account a day after the incident.

Somewhat ironically, Roskomnadzor, Mr Ksenzov’s employer, serves as the main censor for Russia’s media and has blocked more than 10,000 websites.

Russian bloggers and journalists have been deliberately using the term khokhly in their posts in an experiment to test Facebook’s limits.

Last week Facebook blocked journalist Maxim Kononenko for a week for posting a poem by Alexander Pushkin containing the term. The scandal was such that it attracted the attention of the Russian Foreign Ministry, whose spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, used her own Facebook account to denounce Facebook’s “censorship” of its users.

According to Facebook’s community standards, the site removes “hate speech”, which is defined as “content that directly attacks others based on their race, ethnicity and national origin, among other features”. Facebook has declined to comment on the individual cases mentioned.