Facebook Faces Down Putin

Last month, Facebook refused to accede to the Russian government's request to block pages used to rally President Vladimir Putin's opponents. By demonstrating that at least some Western companies care about values that cannot be expressed on their bottom line, Facebook undermined a key claim of Russian propaganda.

PARIS – On December 20, Russia’s government requested that Facebook block a page used to rally opponents of President Vladimir Putin. Facebook initially agreed, but allowed a new page to be opened the next day. By demonstrating that at least some Western companies care about values that cannot be expressed on their bottom line, Facebook undermined a key claim of Russian propaganda – and thereby cast doubt on other false assertions that are helping to prop up Putin’s regime.

This was no easy decision for Facebook. By refusing to comply with the Kremlin’s request, Facebook openly defied a Russian law allowing Internet censorship. As a result, the government can simply ban Facebook in Russia, where it has a formidable – and now fully loyal – local competitor, VKontakte. When VKontakte’s founder, Pavel Durov, refused to cooperate with the government last year, he was forced to resign from the company, sell his stake, and leave the country.

It is not difficult to discern why the Kremlin would take a single Facebook page so seriously. With Putin’s foreign-policy misadventures wreaking havoc on Russia’s economy – on a scale that not even the most pessimistic observers anticipated – any challenge to his leadership is perceived as a serious threat.

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