The future of Russia’s biggest social media site was thrown into a state of flux Friday after the country’s communications regulator moved to shut it down.
The site, VKontakte, is similar to Facebook and has roughly 200 million registered users. On Friday a notice on the website of Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications, or Roskomnadzor, indicated that VK had been added to a “blacklist” and banned from distributing content. The decision apparently came as the result of alleged child pornography being posted to the site.
But later in the day, Russian news reports quoted a Roskomnadzor official as saying the blacklisting had been an error and that the ban had been lifted. “This was a mistake that resulted from human error,” a spokesman for the regulator Roskomnadzor told Interfax.
In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Georgiy Lobushkin, a spokesman for VK, confirmed that the regulator had put the site on the blacklist. He did not provide further details. There were reports the site was not operating in parts of the country.
St. Petersburg-based VK has been the subject of turmoil recently amid speculation the Russian government has become fed up with opponents of President Vladimir Putin using the site to share their views and organize protests.
The company’s chief executive and co-founder, Pavel Durov, also reportedly went into hiding recently to avoid a police investigation. The investigation involves a traffic accident but some VK insiders believe it is really an attempt to intimidate Mr. Durov, 28, who has been a strong advocate for allowing unrestricted access to the seven-year-old site.
Ilya Sherbovich, a Russian businessman who recently acquired a 48 per cent stake in VK, has denied any plot to restrict the site.
Last summer, the Russian parliament passed a law regulating online content. The government said the legislation was aimed at stopping child pornography and extremism, but some say it has already been applied in a haphazard way. The fear at VK and elsewhere is that it will be used more regularly to go after anti-Putin protesters who use social media to organize.
According to its website, Roskomnadzor was established by presidential decree in 2008 to “carry out permitting and licensing activities, validation and supervision in the spheres of telecommunications, information technologies and mass communications.”