LiveJournal, Now Based in Russia, Bans “Political Solicitation” in New User Agreement

LiveJournal, censorship, Russian Federation, user agreement, Vladimir Putin

Matryoshka dolls including Vladimir Putin (Getty)

In its new User Agreement released on April 4, the LiveJournal blogging platform (which moved its servers from California to Russia last December) forbade users from “post[ing] advertising and/or political solicitation materials unless otherwise directly specified in a separate agreement between User and the Administration,” or “perform[ing] any other actions contradictory to the laws of the Russian Federation.”

A 2016 Freedom House report on Russia notes that “Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech, vague laws on extremism grant the authorities great discretion to crack down on any speech, organization, or activity that lacks official support.”

LiveJournal has been owned by a Russian company since 2007, when then-owner Six Apart sold it to the Russian media company SUP. However, its servers remained in California. In January 2009, LiveJournal issued a press release reassuring users that its “headquarters, technical operations (and servers,) legal, administration, and customer service teams will remain in the United States” — and thus remain subject to US, rather than Russian, law.

That changed last December, when LiveJournal relocated its servers to Russia. At the time, Anton Nossik, formerly an advisor to SUP Media, made a Russian-language post in which, according to Global Voices Advocacy, he said “LJ’s servers have moved ‘closer’ not to its authors and readers, but to those who want to monitor them.”

According to the Washington Times, last Friday the Russian government censored five websites, including a LiveJournal posting, that “call[ed] for participation in mass (public) events on April 2, 2017 on Red Square in Moscow and in all other major cities of the Russian Federation.”

Then, on April 4, LiveJournal released two versions of its new User Agreement — one in English and another in Russian. The English-language version is topped by a disclaimer saying “this translation of the User Agreement is not a legally binding document. The original User Agreement, which is valid, is located at the following address” — followed by a link to the Russian-language version.

Global Voices Advocacy spoke to Damir Gainutdinov, a lawyer with the Agora Human Rights Association, who said that the English disclaimer is probably LiveJournal’s way of saying that if any discrepancies are discovered between the English- and Russian-language versions, the Russian one takes priority. “This also means that all LiveJournal users, including people outside Russia, must follow the Russian text,” Gainutdinov said.

This does not mean LiveJournal users outside of Russia will face Russian criminal charges if they post anything that annoys Vladimir Putin’s government — though, like any terms of service, it does give LiveJournal the right to suspend or delete the account of anyone who violates the new user agreement.

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