Russian social media users may find their choice of emojis restricted due to laws against gay propaganda.
Izvestia reports that an investigation is underway to ascertain whether the “gay emojis” violate a ban on what the government calls gay “propaganda.” The offending emojis are those featuring same-sex couples holding hands or kissing, including those which are available on Apple iPhones, writes Eilish O’Gara for Newsweek.
Emoji investigation proposed by Russia’s media watchdog
Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor has contacted the “Young Guard” of the United Russia party to ask for their assistance in investigating the increasing use of so-called gay emojis. The body suspects that they may contravene the ban on materials which promote non-traditional family values.
The government amended Act 11 of Federal Law on June 30, 2013 to ban “propaganda” promoting “non-traditional sexual relationships.” The investigation into “gay emojis” stems from a request from far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia senator Mikhail Marchenko, who believes that certain emojis promote homosexual symbolism.
Marchenko thinks emojis are one factor in “the spread on social media of un-traditional sexual relations among minors,” that “denies family values” and “form disrespect to parents and other family members.”
A spokesman for The Youth Guard told Izevestia that no notification has been received from Roskomnadzor, but it would be willing to investigate the use of such emojis.
Youth organization of Putin’s party to collaborate in investigation
The Youth Guard was founded in 2003 in order to enable Vladimir Putin’s United Russia to engage with a younger demographic. Its website calls it the “largest youth organization in the country.”
The organization is led by former Russian sleeper agent Anna Chapman, who was deployed in the U.S. Putin has praised her work and tasked her with working with “patriots and young business people” when she returned to Russia. Opposition blogger Alexei Navalny has accused the group of extremism and intimidating the press.
Should the emojis be found to be breaking the law, they will be banned for the “protection of children from information harmful to their health and development.”
Since 2013 the promotion of gay rights both online and offline has been subject to a government crackdown, with individuals and companies who publish information on same-sex relationships subject to investigation.
Individuals can face fines of $67-83, and officials can be forced to pay $670-830 if they are found to be rejecting “traditional Russian values.” Foreign nationals in Russia can be arrested and detained for up to 15 days before facing deportation and fines of up to $83.
If the media or the internet is used to spread “gay propaganda,” fines can be increased. Businesses face harsher penalties, including fines of $6,700-8.300 and forced closures of up to 90 days.
Civil rights a huge issue in Russia
This week the founder of an online community for LGBT teenagers was fined $830. A Russian court judged that Elena Klimova’s Deti-404 was distributing “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.”
Civil rights have become another way in which Vladimir Putin rallies the Russian people around a nationalist agenda. By portraying the United States as an immoral force which seeks to disrupt traditional Russian values with its support for gay marriage and other civil liberties, Putin has successfully provided an enemy in the minds of Russian patriots.
Not only is the West seen as a military threat, but it has become a cultural one. The idea that Russia may become corrupted by outside influences is a powerful one, and is part of a rising tide of patriotism in the country. Now it seems even emojis are seen as a threat.