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Putin calls for internet bound by moral rules, criticises opposition rallies

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin called on Thursday for the internet in Russia to be bound by moral rules to stop society fraying and railed against what he said was its role in drawing children into opposition street protests, prostitution and drugs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with participants of the We Are Together nationwide volunteer campaign at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 4, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS.

The comments come amid mounting efforts by Moscow to exert greater influence over U.S. social media giants and frustrations over what authorities say is their failure to follow Russian laws.

Last December, parliament’s lower house backed big new fines on platforms that fail to delete banned content and another bill that would allow U.S. social media giants to be restricted if they “discriminate” against Russian media.

“The internet has already penetrated into all spheres of our lives ... it must obey not just the laws of formal, legal rules, but also the moral laws of the society in which we live, otherwise this society will collapse from the inside,” he said.

As tens of thousands rallied to protest the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny earlier this year, Moscow accused U.S. social networks of failing to take down fake posts about anti-Kremlin demonstrations earlier this year.

Authorities also accused the opposition of getting children to take part in unsanctioned opposition protests, something the opposition says is a deliberate smear and untrue.

“We encounter (online) child pornography, child prostitution, drug dealing where it is precisely children and teenagers who are the target audience,” Putin said.

“Drawing them out onto the street to be hooligans, fight with the police, and then hiding behind the children, actually putting them in front,” he continued in televised comments.

Separately on Thursday, the Vedomosti newspaper reported that the Russian government was discussing a possible new tax on global IT firms that use Russian data to analyse user behaviour and offer contextual advertising.

The funds gathered from the tax would be used to support domestic IT companies, it said. The measure was discussed at a government meeting with the IT industry last week that was attended by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, it said.

A decision on introducing the tax is expected by halfway through this year, Vedomosti cited an unnamed source at the meeting as saying.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Toby Chopra and David Evans

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