The San Francisco-based blogging platform had previously stated that, without a U.S. court order, it refused to honour Turkish requests to censor content.
However, when I asked about the censored blog, a WordPress spokesperson said it had been forced to comply with demands from Turkey “or face a whole WordPress.com site block in the country,” but that it would “look into making the current process clearer in our next transparency report.”
During the previous reporting period, we changed our approach for takedown demands from Azerbaijan and Turkey. We now respond to them as we do the demands from Russia, which is why the percentage of requests where some or all content was removed has increased.
According to the report, for the period July 1–December 31, WordPress received 93 court orders and 235 requests from government agencies or law enforcement.
It complied with 66 percent of the total 328 requests, but refused to comply with some of the more absurd requests including a request from Colombian authorities to suspend six websites for “insulting and dishonorable comments against political figures in Colombia and imputing unfounded charges to people who generate business at the national level.”
Roskomnadzor’s October 31, 2016 complaint to WordPress (source)
The offending blog post, which Roskomnadzor claims violates Tatulyan’s privacy “rights and freedoms,” describes an incident at Sochi International Airport earlier this year, when Tatulyan and his entourage – driving vehicles carrying Armenian embassy number plates – brazenly violated numerous traffic regulations.
According to Russian news reports, Tatulyan boasted to security staff about supposedly having acquired ambassadorship in Armenia, before speeding away in the wrong lane through the airport’s car park and ramming an automatic barrier.
A video of the incident, as captured on CCTV:
Tatulyan is not listed as holding office at the Armenian embassy in Russia, although several Russian news reports – including the targeted WordPress post – have alluded to his possible involvement in Russia’s criminal underworld.
One popular online publication, Crime Russia (itself the target of multiple takedown requests from Roskomnadzor), even alleges that Tatulyan is “shadow ruler” of all crime syndicates in Sochi, succeeding the notorious Russian mafia boss Aslan Usoyan aka Grandpa Hassan, who was assassinated in 2013.
Roskomnadzor’s complaint to WordPress does not try to refute these claims, instead citing a dubious Russian law restricting the publication of “personal data” in an effort to censor the offending blog post.
According to the Lumen Database, WordPress has partially enforced Roskomnadzor’s complaint (source)
Via my blog last month, WordPress recently changed its policy about how it responds to takedown requests.
Although the blogging platform has built a strong reputation on its principled support for free speech, it now says it complies with censorship demands in order to ensure access to the bulk of WordPress.com for users within authoritarian countries, who would otherwise face more severe punishment from their Internet Service Provider (ISP).
…reaffirming its free speech bonafides via this January 28, 2016 Automattic entry, in which a spokesperson for WordPress stated that, without a U.S. court order, the company “refused to take action in response to the takedown demands from Turkey.”
Under our legal guidelines, we require a U.S. court order before proceeding with the removal of content from WordPress.com. To this point, we have refused to take action in response to the takedown demands from Turkey. After we receive notice of an order, Turkish ISPs, who are bound to obey the court orders, move to block the sites named in an order, making it unavailable to all visitors from Turkey without any further explanation.
However, last month WordPress admitted to having censored a Turkish political blog after receiving a complaint from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Per this undated Automattic entry, WordPress also recently started implementing blocks on request of Russian authorities, with the stated aim of “protecting all of the other 79 million WordPress.com sites.”
Today, when we receive a takedown demand from RSOC [Roskomnadzor], we review it and will often end up suspending the site in question because of a violation of our Terms of Service (for selling drugs or containing pornography, for example). In cases where the site does not violate our terms, we try to take the most limited and transparent actions available: blocking content so that it is unavailable only in Russia, and blocking only the content specified in the takedown demand (rather than the entire site). We take this action with the goal of protecting all of the other 79 million WordPress.com sites.
It’s possible to find out if WordPress has geo-blocked content in Russia by entering certain URLs – such as the one mentioned in the Roskomnadzor complaint – into a Russian proxy.
If WordPress has blocked the URL in question, you’ll see the following message, a nod to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451:
A list of WordPress blogs currently geo-blocked in Russia is available by clicking here.
See also: “Erdoğan Strikes Again,” my November 27, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of Turkish political blog following court order by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
And: “WordPress Yields to Putin,” my December 3, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of “Putin-Hitler” mock photo on request of Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor.