Russia has threatened to retaliate against German media and Youtube after the latter permanently deleted the account of the German offshoot of Russia Today (RT) for repeatedly breaking community guidelines on disinformation. EURACTIV Germany reports.
YouTube initially suspended the Russian-funded news channel Russia Today for a week for spreading misinformation related to COVID-19.
According to the video-sharing platform, RT consequently tried to circumvent this ban by creating an alternative channel, leading to a permanent ban on Tuesday evening (28 September).
“YouTube has always had clear community guidelines that define what is and is not allowed on the platform,” a YouTube spokesperson said, adding that because of RT’s attempt at circumventing the initial temporary ban, both channels have now been permanently deleted.
Russia Today vehemently denied the allegations. Editor in Chief Margarita Simonyan said on Twitter that the ban was tantamount to a “media war” launched by Germany against Russia. She called on the Russian government to take immediate countermeasures.
The government reacted to the ban on Wednesday (29 September), with the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson calling it an “unprecedented information aggression” against Russia.
Russia also accused the German government of having “stigmatised” RT correspondents for “years”, adding that Germany was trying to silence media that did not tow the official line.
Russia also announced countermeasures against German media houses and YouTube. The Russian foreign ministry said these would be “not only appropriate but imperative” in a statement.
German authorities have criticised Russia Today for quite some time with allegations that it spreads targeted fake news and disinformation.
In 2020, Germany’s interior ministry announced that both the Federal Criminal Police Office and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution were keeping an eye on RT Germany, as its spreading of false information posed a threat to public security and order.
“The deletion of the RT account comes much too late,” Luca Nicotra from the activist network Avaaz told EURACTIV, stressing that Avaaz has been warning about Russia’s disinformation campaigns for years.
RT reportedly uses algorithms of online platforms to spread its content to maximise the reach of its conspiracy theories. According to a report published by Avaaz, RT Deutschland generated more interactions on Facebook in the first half of 2021 than the pages of Bild, Der Spiegel, and Tagesschau combined. This was despite its small number of followers (600,000) when compared to its German counterparts.
“RT tries to abuse the algorithms of online platforms for their own purposes, especially through polarising content – such as articles about the seemingly negative effects of vaccinations,” Nicotra told EURACTIV.
YouTube was criticised in July in a report by the Mozilla Foundation. The report said that the platform’s algorithm tended to fuel the dissemination of harmful content.
EU disinformation crackdown
The European Commission has already made the regulation of online platforms a priority and tabled a legislative proposal in the form of the Digital Services Act (DSA).
The DSA, which is currently being negotiated at the EU level, aims to make digital giants more accountable for their actions and will foresee legal action against the publishing of illegal and harmful online content.
To strengthen the fight against disinformation, enshrining the obligation for online platforms to disclose their algorithms into the DSA is being debated.
Online platforms like YouTube and Facebook have so far only committed to monitoring the content published on their sites by voluntarily signing the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation.
This could change with the DSA, as the text imposes heavy fines on platforms if they fail to take measures to minimise the risks of harmful content, including disinformation, being posted online.
The European Commission is also currently working on renewing and tightening the code of practice on disinformation. Although the new code is also based on voluntary action, the pressure on digital companies to sign it and implement it adequately is increasing.
By signing and complying with the new Code of Practice, digital companies will be committing to ensuring the measures they take are in line with the DSA.
“If the current ambitious draft survives the negotiations, then we have a legislative tool here that could really make a difference,” Avaaz’s Nicotra said about the DSA.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Alice Taylor]