Legislation introduced yesterday in the Duma — the lower house of the Russian parliament — would classify media content determined to be “promoting” LGBTQ relations as “propaganda” under federal law.
The bill would broaden a controversial 2013 law banning the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors, which is widely referred to as the “gay propaganda” bill. According to the Moscow Times, that 2013 ban allows for a fine of up to 1 million rubles — $17,200 — or up to 15 days in jail for violations. In December a Russian court fined Meta Platforms Inc. – i.e. Facebook — 4 million roubles, which equates to $177,000, under the 2013 law for failing to delete posts that contained what the court deemed “LGBT propaganda.”
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The new bill would apply to all film, TV and internet content and expand the ban on the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations” to content seen by any audience of any age. It also seeks to ban any other information displaying “non-traditional sexual relations or perversions.” Historically in Russia, homosexuality was deemed a criminal offense. That lasted until 1993. It was erroneously classified as a mental illness until 1999.
Most major studios and networks have already suspended operations in Russia, so the impact on Hollywood will likely be minimal in the short term. That doesn’t look likely to change soon.
The war in Ukraine, over which most multinationals pulled out of Russia, continues with little indication of when it might end. And, given the U.S. is set on December 5 to end its carve out permitting financial institutions to process payments related to Russian oil, government sanctions look primed to increase, not decrease.
Of the remaining media companies in Russia the U.S.-based Snap, which is still on a highly-touted Yale list of outfits “postponing future planned investment/development/marketing while continuing substantive business” in Russia, may be impacted by the law.
While Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have left the country, Snap remains. The social media giant announced in March that it would suspend advertising in the region, but not operations. The company has a social mapping app called Zenly that was reportedly downloaded over 51 million times in Russia in 2021. Snap does not monetize Zenly’s user base, but the subsidiary remains a significant and growing investment in the country.
Even more exposed is Match.com, which owns Tinder, OK Cupid and a suite of very popular dating apps. Match is classified on the Yale list as “Defying Demands for Exit or Reduction of Activitie” or, more plainly, “doing business as usual.”
A proposed ban on not just information concerning homosexuality but also “non-traditional sexual relations or perversions” might be very, very bad for Match’s business. And having to classify and police users’ behaviors into buckets of traditional vs. non-traditional and appropriate vs. perverse — based on Kremlin-guided definitions — might be too much for even the mightiest algorithm.
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