WordPress.com Defies Marked Increase in Russian Takedown Demands

Sep 9, 2022 | 0 comments

Automattic published its bi-annual transparency report this week, which highlights the different information and takedown demands received across the company’s services.

Historically, Automattic has used these reports as an opportunity to publicly reaffirm its commitment to actively pushing back against requests that violate users’ freedom of speech and bring attention to abusive takedown demands. In 2014, the company open sourced its DMCA takedown process documents to help others implement their own processes. Past transparency reports have included information on intellectual property disputes, IRUs (reports from dedicated government Internet Referral Units), national security letters, government information requests, and other issues related to hosted content.

In 2021, Automattic published a unified landing page for WordPress.com and Tumblr’s transparency reports, which are now hosted on the same site, aimed at making it easier to navigate and compare the data. In the future this may include the company’s other products like Day One and Pocket Casts, as relevant requests come in.

The most recent report for the first half of 2022, includes information on the Russian censorship requests WordPress.com received.

“Over the past six months, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have seen a marked increase in the number of takedown demands that target content which is critical of the Russian government and associates,” WordPress.com Community Guardian Stephen McLeod Blythe said. He cited specific examples relating to the Russian invasion of Ukraine:

  • Fundraising for Ukranian aid
  • Outlining Russian history with a perspective on what led to the war in Ukraine
  • Alleging criminal activity on the part of Russian oligarchs, and their personal connections to Putin
  • Publishing commentary from former Russian soldiers who were critical of the military involvement in Ukraine

“In all of these cases, given our concerns about access to critical information from within Russia, and the implications for freedom of expression, we made the determination that we would not geoblock the content at issue,” Blythe said.

The report also included information on how Automattic resolved IP blocks from two major ISPs in Colombia, after the country blocked Tumblr without disclosing the reason. Columbia’s Ministry of Technologies and Communications had blocked the service after discovering a spam blog on the network. Despite the fact that Automattic had already removed the blog, the process of unblocking Tumblr took months.

“Situations such as these are not uncommon, and, as the above example demonstrates, the issue of government censorship online or regional platform blocks cannot be reflected solely by the numbers of takedown demands that are received,” Blythe said. “As a result, we are committed to continually reviewing and expanding the information that we are able to share in our transparency report.”

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