Russian energy giant Gazprom takes over Europe’s largest social network
At the same time, Roskomnadzor has filed lawsuits against US technology companies Google and Meta, which will likely be subject to further fines
The same procedure that the Kremlin began to apply after the arrival to power of Vladimir Putin, in relation to the main media and, especially, with television channels, it is now applying with social networks in an attempt to control everything that appears on the Internet.
Gazprombank has just transferred 45% of the shares of MF Technologies JSC to Gazprom-Media Holding JSC, which is curiously headed by former Roskomnadzor director Alexander Zhárov. Roskomnadzor, precisely, is the communications regulatory body that is promoting lawsuits against foreign technology companies such as Google, Meta, YouTube or Tik-Tok.
MF Technologies owns 57.3% of the voting shares of VKontakte (VK), the largest social network in Europe and one of the largest in the world. The holding company VK includes the portal Mail.ru, Odnoklássniki and the social network VKontakte itself.
Representatives of Gazprom-Media, quoted by the TASS agency, assured that this holding is the largest producer of popular content and the highest demand in the country. The change of owners of VK has also meant a different redistribution in the company’s management. The new director is now Vladimir Kiriyenko, son of Sergei Kiriyenko, the number two of the Kremlin Administration.
In parallel, Roskomnadzor has filed lawsuits against US technology companies Google and Meta, which will likely be subject to further fines. The cause has been that they breached the “obligation” to remove banned content.
Roskomnadzor warned both Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook in October with sanctions, the amount of which is a percentage of their annual turnover. In such cases, Russian law allows companies to be fined between 5% and 10% of that turnover. The Moscow Taganski Court has summoned the two companies in a hearing for December 24.
In Russia there is a clear trend towards greater control of the Internet through strong pressure on foreign technology companies. Since March, Twitter traffic started to slow and other companies have been fined. Google, for example, has already paid more than 32 million rubles (about 380,000 euros) in penalties so far this year.
As if that wasn’t enough, in September, Roskomnadzor blocked six widely used virtual private network (VPN) applications that provided access to a large number of banned websites in Russia. In recent years, the Russian government has blocked websites that refused to reveal their details and others that supported the main Russian opponent, Alexei Navalni.
In March, the Kremlin issued a warning that foreign social media could be eradicated in Russia. The spokesman for the Presidency, Dmitri Peskov, warned that “we hope we do not have to ban certain social networks due to criteria of moderation, especially political ones.” Twitter was close to being completely blocked. “Nobody wants a complete ban, it would be foolish to defend that. But we have to force these companies to respect our rules, “warned Peskov. In his words, “no state that respects itself would not let a company impose its conditions”.