Lords grill TikTok over Russia relationship

Written by Kate Proctor on 14 May 2021 in News
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Social media firm denies giving any special treatment to the Kremlin in parliamentary hearing

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TikTok claims it did not give Russia “special” treatment after it agreed to a request from the Russian government demanding it delete posts of street protests supporting Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny (pictured above).

Despite removing the posts, the social media site was fined 2.6 million rubles (£25,000) by Russia in April for not getting rid of the videos of the demonstrations and calls for teenagers to join the protests quickly enough. 

Other social media giants have also been issued with fines.

Elizabeth Kanter, UK director of government relations at TikTok, told members of the House of Lords that they had treated Russia’s requests to delete content in the same way as any other country.


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“We want to make it very clear that we didn’t do anything different for the Russian government that we would do for any other government around the world,” she told the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee's inquiry into freedom of expression online.  “We didn’t change our policies to accommodate the Russian government. We looked at the valid legal requests, evaluated them and the content they flagged, and as I say we took down some content but we certainly didn’t do anything special for the Russian government.”

Conservative peer Baroness Buscombe pointed out during the evidence session that TikTok had been praised by a Russian state official for “actively cooperating” with the country.

Earlier in April a press release issued by Russian assembly, or Duma, said “they are ready to cooperate” after TikTok’s director of public policy, Helena Lersch, took part in a meeting of the Commission on the Investigation of Foreign Interference in Russia's Internal Affairs.

Kanter said requests had been made to delete content in support of protests for Navalny, who was jailed in February, because they are illegal under Russian law.

“Pro-Navalny, pro-Putin content, is not illegal, but the protests in particular were illegal according to the Russian government. “We received a legal request to take down the content …and as we do with any kind of content we receive from any government across the world we evaluate those legal requests.”

She said they ended up with the fine because the Russian government did not think they had moved “at pace” in erasing videos.

After the fine was issued TikTok officials then met with the Duma and she said that the meeting was similar to the session held in the Lords’ committee today.  

She said: “After the fine was issued we were asked to meet with Russian parliamentarians, in the same way we are meeting with you today to talk about how we approach this kind of content.”

The committee is chaired by Lord Stevenson of Balcamara.

It is understood TikTok were informed of a second fine from the Russian government at the start of May. 

 

About the author

Kate Proctor is political editor of PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared. She tweets as @Kate_M_Proctor.

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