YouTube threatens to block Russian rights group’s channel over war content

A leading Russian rights group, OVD-Info, has announced that YouTube has threatened to block access to one of its channels in Russia. This channel, named Kak Teper (What’s Going On), which has 100,000 subscribers, features news and interviews about the war in Ukraine and Russian political opposition. The notification from YouTube, received in early May, stated that the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor found content on the channel that violated information technology laws. Google warned that if the content was not removed, the channel could be blocked.

OVD-Info’s spokesperson, Dmitrii Anisimov, indicated that they are in discussions with YouTube and Google to argue that the demand to block their channel is politically motivated censorship. He also noted that their other YouTube channel remains unaffected.

YouTube has not commented specifically on its discussions with OVD-Info, but it did confirm that videos from three other opposition channels, which provided information on evading Russian military service, were briefly removed and then reinstated. This is part of a broader context where Google, along with other Western tech companies, has ceased operations in Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, although YouTube continues to operate there despite numerous fines for not deleting content deemed illegal by Moscow.

Natalia Krapiva, a tech legal counsel at Access Now, highlighted the potential repercussions if YouTube continues to block civil society channels, stressing the importance of maintaining these platforms for independent media and human rights advocacy. OVD-Info’s case marks a significant instance of potential censorship of Russian human rights content on YouTube.