A “mistake” that saw Russia’s leading social network site blocked for several hours 24 May may have been meant as a warning to Russian Internet users, blogger Oleg Kozyrev tells Radio Free Europe.
Officials said VKontakte.ru was placed on a list of banned websites by mistake, according to Reuters.
“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,” spokesman Vladimir Pikov of the federal communications regulator said.
Since November regulators have had the authority to shut down websites containing child pornography, depictions of drug use, forums for suicidal people, and other content considered socially harmful.
The site’s brief ban is the latest in a string of run-ins with the Kremlin. Activists’ use of VKontakte in 2011 to organize protests after contested State Duma elections prompted the Federal Security Service to request their removal from the site, only for VKontakte founder Pavel Durov to turn them down, RFE reports.
In April, sources close to Durov reported he had left the country after alleged video footage appeared online of Durov hitting a traffic police officer with his car. Durov denies even owning a car.
A police search of the VKontakte offices and Durov’s home on 17 April preceded by one day a 48 percent stake purchase of the site by the Kremlin-friendly United Capital Partners (UCP), RFE writes.
Durov had previously resisted attempts by UCP to buy into VKontakte. The site’s other major owner is Mail.ru, another Kremlin-friendly company.
Kozyrev, described by RFE as a media analyst and opposition blogger, said the VKontakte ban was “an attempt to teach the Russian online community to be more compliant, less independent, and more deferential.”
Durov’s biographer Nickolay Kononov said, “All big media have been brought under the control of the Kremlin, and [VKontakte] is the last medium that is free,” Reuters writes.