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Top Russian Social Network VKontakte Briefly Banned "By Mistake"

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, May 24 2013

Screenshot from Russian social network VKontakte sign-in page

The most popular social network in Russia worked its way onto a blacklist this Friday, allegedly “by mistake,” according to the state communications regulator. However, Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte, has had run-ins with the authorities in the past for allowing activists to organize protests on the platform. Some interpret this supposedly accidental blocking as a warning shot.

Access to VKontakte was blocked in parts of Russian, including St. Petersburg, this Friday. Within hours the site was again available and a spokesman for the state communications regulator Roskomnadzor assured the 200 million registered users it was an accident.

Said spokesman Vladimir Pikov: “This happened by mistake. . . in this case, someone checked a box against the address of the social network. The site has been removed from the list and restrictions on access to it have been lifted.”

According to The Moscow Times, Pikov also said that they had wanted to block specific pages deemed potentially harmful on VKontakte, but they had not meant to blacklist the entire service.

The blacklist is part of a law designed to protect children from harmful information, including child pornography and information about illegal drugs and suicide. The bill was signed into law in 2012, and under it the Russian government can block sites without a trial.

After VKontakte founder Pavel Durov was accused of being involved in a traffic accident in April, investigators searched his home and VKontakte offices. Later that month two VKontakte co-founders and stakeholders, wealthy friends of Durov's from school, sold their combined 48 percent state to United Capital Partners, which has known ties with state-run companies.

After the sale, a Russian Internet insider told The Guardian “Putin is now the de facto owner of Vkontakte.”

An article in The Guardian observed that “Friday's ban. . . could be a shot across VKontakte's bows to ensure it tightens its monitoring.”

Durov and by extension VKontakte got the shot across the bow when their offices were searched in April; this looks more like a warning to the 200 million plus VKontakte users.

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