Google has just announced that YouTube will geoblock the Kremlin-affiliated media outlets Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik in Europe, following pressure from regional lawmakers to choke off Russian war propaganda.
In a tweet announcing the geoblocks, the company’s Europe policy team writes: “Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, we’re blocking YouTube channels connected to RT and Sputnik across Europe, effective immediately.”
We’ve reached out to the Commission for a response to YouTube’s announcement.
On Monday the EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, held a video call with the CEOs of Google and YouTube to press them to step up their efforts.
YouTube hosts thousands of videos by the two Russian state-affiliated media firms and – as we noted yesterday – RT’s own channel marketing claims it is “the most watched news network on YouTube”.
Now Europeans who try to browse to RT’s YouTube channel are met with a message that “this channel is not available in your country”:
Yesterday Facebook, Microsoft, TikTok and Twitter announced similar restrictions.
But Google took a little longer to consider its response. The tech giant has not offered an explanation for the delay.
In its tweet announcing the geoblocking this morning, Google also warned: “It’ll take time for our systems to fully ramp up. Our teams continue to monitor the situation around the clock to take swift action. ”
So the company appears to be signaling that it expects some content from Kremlin-linked channels to continue to be accessible in the near term – as its systems “ramp up”.
With YouTube only geoblocking RT and Sputnik, rather than banning or suspending the accounts, Russia’s propaganda can of course continue to spread outside Europe – including still being available inside Russia itself.
Google is not alone in opting for this compromise, though.
Facebook’s parent Meta and TikTok also opted to geoblock Russian-state affiliated media accounts, rather than suspending or banning their accounts entirely.
Twitter and Microsoft have also taken a slightly different tack, reflecting the difference nuances of their platforms – saying they would take measures to reduce visibility of state-sponsored RT and Sputnik content, so essentially limiting their freedom of reach.
Twitter also expanded its labeling policy yesterday – adding notifications to tweets that link to Russian state-affiliated media and warning users to “stay informed”.
Given the latter is far more an information network than a social (or broadcast) network, labeling and contextualizing seems an appropriate response – although it remains to be seen whether the EU incoming ban on RT and Sputnik will require web platforms to go further.