Google took to the courts earlier this year in an attempt to stop the removal of a YouTube video deemed “harmful to children” by new Russian laws that govern media content. The rule, effective from November 2012, is an amendment to Russia’s Information Act and serves to censor internet content that portrays child sexual abuse, drug use and suicide. These may seem like reasonable and honorable measures but Google fears the Act surreptitiously and unnecessarily controls information.
The removal of harmful content is a great idea. There is no reasonable argument for not removing media that is destructive or illegal. Google has stressed that their appeal following the Russian government’s demand that the offending video be removed was based on the fact that the video, created by twenty year-old Ukrainian Darina Snegova, was intended to be a technical demonstration of how theatrical make-up could be used effectively. The video, unfortunately titled “Video lesson on how to cut your veins” uses a demonstration of a suicide act to show the creator’s use of make-up and how to apply it for the same effect. While the subject title alone could easily cause alarm in the face of tough Russian regulations, the crux of the matter is that the clip is not so much a handbook for suicide as it is an example of the creator’s technical expertise, however graphic the subject. The video of a woman cutting her wrists, shows blunt razor blades and fake blood – visuals deemed too graphic for a potentially young audience. Google fought to have the clip reinstated after they complied to have it removed last year but the motion was rejected by a Moscow court.
The video clip that Google defended as “intended as entertainment rather than to promote actual suicide” has now been permanently removed. Since the new laws were passed, Google has received over a hundred requests for removals of various videos in Russia despite human rights groups campaigning for the increased censorship to be stopped. The internet faces increasing control measures forced by authoritarian governments and losses like this, though understandable from some perspective, are proof that access to media will continue to be a privilege in many countries.