Metro Weekly

Russia Fines TikTok $51,000 for Violating Anti-LGBTQ Law

Russia is fining tech companies to prevent them from disseminating information that runs counter to the government's preferred views.

Russia is cracking down on TikTok and other media platforms – Photo: Elena Mozhvilo/Unsplash

A Russian court fined the video streaming app TikTok 3 million rubles — or about $51,000 — for failing to delete content on the platform that violates the country’s anti-LGBTQ “propaganda” law.

Moscow’s Tagansky District Court found that TikTok, which is owned by the Beijing-based IT company ByteDance, violated the law, accusing it of “promoting non-traditional values, LGBT, feminism, and a distorted representation of traditional sexual values” on its platform, according to Russian news outlet Interfax.

Russian authorities had previously warned TikTok that fines would be imposed if the content remained accessible to Russian TikTok users, reports Reuters.

Russia’s “propaganda” law was first adopted in 2013 to ban the spread of information about “non-traditional sexual relations” among minors.

This includes any mention of homosexuality, sex education curricula that incorporate lessons about HIV/AIDS and condom use, mentions of LGBTQ historical figures, or content that depicts homosexuality, gender-nonconformity, or failure to conform to sex-based stereotypes in a neutral or positive light.

A wide swath of actions, displays, or even inanimate objects have been deemed “violations” of the law, including a teenager’s decision to post pictures of shirtless men who were deemed to “look” homosexual to social media, scenes from a movie about Elton John, the mere existence of an LGBTQ advocacy group, Netflix movie and TV show offerings, a group of World Cup attendees wearing rainbow-colored shirts that appeared to form a “rainbow flag,” and even a bank note that depicted a partially-nude statue of the greek god Apollo.

Despite being declared discriminatory by the European Court of Human Rights, Russian lawmakers recently moved to expand the law beyond minors to apply to all adults.

As such, any depictions of homosexuality or LGBTQ identity in media, on the Internet, on social media networks, or in the public square, will be outlawed and punished with a fine.

The law could even threaten public health by making it illegal for doctors to acknowledge a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Russian authorities justify the law by claiming they are seeking to protect Russian citizens from being corrupted by “liberal values” imposed by the West, but human rights activists say the law is simply used to persecute minority groups, including the LGBTQ community.

In addition to the fine on TikTok, Russia also issued a 4 million ruble ($68,000) fine on Amazon’s  Twitch streaming platform for hosting an interview with Oleksii Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The platform was fined 3 million rubles earlier this year for hosting another Arestovych interview.

Since its invasion of Ukraine in March, Russia has introduced harsher laws cracking down on what it deems “fake news,” which is any information seen as “discrediting” the country’s armed forces and punishing those who disseminate such information with up to 15 years in prison. 

According to The Verge, the recent round of fines imposed against tech companies for violating its laws are part of an ongoing assault against news sources that provide information counter to that which the Russian government would prefer its citizens to know.

In July, Russia fined Google nearly $365 million for refusing to pull videos from YouTube about the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, is being fined 4 million rubles for a similar infraction.

While the current penalties against TikTok and Twitch are relatively small, the numbers have added up, and the government threatens to add additional fines to force tech companies into compliance.

Twitch is already facing a set of new fines totaling $135,392 for failing to remove content about the war in Ukraine that the Russian government has deemed “false,” according to the Russian state news agency TASS.

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