Russian government threatens to block Russian Wikipedia for information on war in Ukraine

The Russian government has threatened to ban the Russian-language Wikipedia site for its inclusion of “illegally distributed information” about the ongoing war in Ukraine on its page.

In an effort to suppress information about the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory, the Russian government sent Wikipedia a notice on Tuesday, directly calling out the site’s inclusion of casualty numbers in the war thus far. Additionally, the notice also claimed that certain information regarding foreign sanctions on Russia was prohibited by Russian law.

“Roskomnadzor (a federal agency overseeing communications and mass media within the Russian Federation) has sent a notification from the General Prosecutor’s Office with the threat of blocking Wikipedia for its page ‘2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine,’ ” the Russian-language branch of Wikipedia posted on Twitter (link is in Russian).

In a follow-up tweet, the Russian-language Wikipedia service shared a link to the page and also included a page outlining several workaround options to access information through the website in case the government does indeed block Russian internet users from accessing Wikipedia. “We recommend studying up on possible workarounds in the event that Wikipedia is blocked,” the tweet reads.

In recent years, Wikipedia’s various language offerings have played a large role in making information more accessible to speakers of numerous low-resource languages, however the Russian government’s latest attempt to censor it suggests that it may not always be the most secure tool for spreading information either.

Roskomnadzor has already blocked access to several Russian and Ukrainian-language media sites for publishing “prohibited information,” so its attempts to do so with Wikipedia are not particularly unprecedented. In its notice to Wikipedia, Roskomnadzor specifically pointed to the inclusion of Russian military casualties, Ukrainian casualties of children and other civilians, and “the need to take money out of Russian bank accounts due to foreign sanctions.”

Shortly after posting the notice to Twitter, Wikipedia also retweeted a tweet about certain Russian users having trouble accessing Wikipedia, however this tweet was from Feb. 24, so it is unclear whether or not the Russian government has acted on its threat. 

The so-called prohibited information has not been removed from the page, which still maintains information about casualties in the war as well as information about the sanctions’ effects on banking within Russia. Currently, the Wikipedia page in question is locked and cannot be edited by new users or anonymous users who have not logged into their accounts.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.


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