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Twitter “Blocks” Access to Russia's Most Infamous Hackers

Categories: Russia, Advocacy, Free Expression
Twitter screen capture.

Twitter screen capture.

Russia's Twitter users no longer have access to @b0ltai [1], an account belonging to a hacker collective that has leaked several internal Kremlin documents to the Internet over the past seven months. The hacker group, which RuNet Echo profiled [2] last month, has published stollen emails belonging to high-profile members of the Russian government, inside reports on the state of Russian politics, and the Kremlin's instructions to state-controlled TV news channels. 

Asked to explain why Twitter removed Russians’ access to @b0ltai, a Twitter spokesperson told RuNet Echo, “We do not comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons.” Elsewhere, however, Twitter has confirmed the takedown of @b0ltai for Russian users. Twitter is one of only two companies (the other being Google) to post actioned takedown orders to the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse [3], a project of EFF and several law schools, to promote transparency.

Dated July 25, Twitter logged [4] a “Russian request to block [a] Twitter user,” attaching a letter [5] from Russia's federal communications agency, Roscomnadzor. The letter cites a decision by a St. Petersburg court, banning b0ltai's blog and microblog in accordance with a lawsuit by an unnamed individual concerning “personal data.” Little is known about the lawsuit that resulted in b0ltai's blacklisting. According to Kommersant newspaper [6], neither the Russian courts nor Roscomnadzor has elaborated on the trial that banned from the Internet Russia's most infamous hackers.

While Twitter's “Country Withheld Content” policy [7] does stipulate that the company may “reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time,” if Twitter receives a “valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity,” it is still very easy for Twitter users inside Russia to access @b0ltai. Indeed, Russians have been tweeting the circumvention instructions all day.

Attention! For those of you who want to view the Twitter accounts blocked inside Russia (for example, @b0ltai), just go into your account settings and change your country setting to anything but “Russia” or “worldwide.”

Toggling a user's country is just 3-clicks-deep in the Twitter account settings [9]. For now, that's all it takes to defeat the Great Firewall of Russia.