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“Pedophile's Guide” Lands Russian Blogging Platform on Blacklist

The Russian Internet blacklist has claimed another visible website: the blog-hosting portal lj.rossia.org. Federal communications monitors from Roskomnadzor filed two separate decisions [ru] against lj.rossia on January 28, regarding a blog that publishes Russian translations of the American book “The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure,” by Phillip Greaves, who was arrested and sentenced to two years’ probation by a Florida court in 2011. (Greaves’ book was briefly available on Amazon.com, before that site pulled it from sales.) Roskomnadzor's blacklisting finally took effect earlier today, after lj.rossia's administrators apparently refused to remove or block access to the content within the Russian Federation.

Lj.rossia.org is a small blogging platform with around two thousand active users, some of whom, however, are notable bloggers like Vladimir Pribylovsky and Roman Leibov. It is also a repository [ru] for some accounts suspended by LiveJournal or hacked in the past.

This marks the second time in a month that lj.rossia has tangled with federal censors. Just last month, on January 8, Roskomnadzor demanded that the site cut off access to user kazantripreport's blog for disseminating information about illegal drugs. As it happens, lj.rossia had already decided [ru] to suspend kazantripreport more than a week [ru] earlier, after portal-founder Misha Verbitsky put it up for a vote [ru] among users. (They determined that “commercial use of the [lj.rossia] server” constituted a violation of the site's terms of service.)

Misha Verbitsky, 21 May 2006, photo by Misha Verbitsky, CC 3.0.

Misha Verbitsky, 21 May 2006, photo by Misha Verbitsky, CC 3.0.

Verbitsky's website is no stranger to problems with material harmful to children. In 2010, accusations [ru] arose that several lj.rossia users—some registered as “friends” of Verbitsky—had been posting child pornography for years. When site administrators (namely, Verbitsky himself) took no action, the infamous Hacker Hell broke into the offending accounts, and Verbitsky immediately suspended them. A year later, Hell intervened again, when Verbitsky refused to suspend a user for republishing stolen email and LiveJournal messaging logs. This time, Hell hacked and froze the account publishing the logs.

Censorship was with lj.rossia at its inception. Indeed, Verbitsky created the LiveJournal-alternative after that site's Abuse Team froze his account in June 2005. His offense was promulgating the phrase [ru] “Kill a NATOite!” (Убей НАТОвца!), which (then still American) LJ administrators interpreted literally to be a call to violence. Verbitsky temporarily lost his account along with hundreds [ru] of other LJ users (including many prominent bloggers, like Maksim Kononenko), after the site activated an automatic crawler to freeze any account using the Убей НАТОвца phrase, regardless of context. When Verbitsky resuscitated his blog on lj.rossia, his inaugural post [ru] read simply: “Kill NATO! NATO, kill it!”

The current scandal surrounding lj.rossia's Phillip Greaves clone (user how_to) also has a history dating back at least to September last year. That was when newspaper Moskovskii Komsomolets published an article [ru] criticizing lj.rossia for hosting the blog. Two days after that piece, Roskomnadzor issued an official warning [ru], accusing the newspaper of disseminating hyperlinks to illegal material. (Still six weeks before the Internet blacklist registry went online, the government relied on an older law than bans mass media outlets from spreading illegal information.) Indeed, Verbitsky commented [ru] on the incident at the time, mocking the turn of events as “surreal.”

As it turns out, lj.rossia already debated the pedophile blog last month, on January 10, when user andrewkasper complained [ru] that it contained illegal content and called for how_to's suspension. Verbitsky was initially receptive to the complaint, reposting [ru] it the same day to lj.rossia's supervisory community. As the comments poured in, however, the debate quickly degenerated into attacks on andrewkasper, including comparisons [ru] of him to Goebbels and Stalin, as well as accusations [ru] that andrewkasper and how_to are one and the same person. (This latter theory supposes that andrewkasper's complaint was intended solely to draw attention to how_to's blog.)

Writing again today, Verbitsky addressed the blacklisting of lj.rossia. Surprisingly, he now says he's prepared to introduce a “stop-list” that would block blacklisted posts and accounts from people accessing the site in Russia. Verbitsky has also asked the supervisory community to debate whether or not he should delete how_to's lj.rossia account. Offering his own two cents, user how_to commented this evening on Verbitsky's post, advocating [ru] the Russia-localized stop-list, and defending [ru] Greaves’ book as something that “tests the limits of permissible” and addresses “the most important political issue: the sex question.”

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