When Russia’s media watchdog agency Roskomnadzor became aware of a thread on Reddit called “/r/trees” outlining the “cultivation of growing narcotic plants,” it contacted Reddit's offices immediately. When they did not receive an immediate response, the fun-police crafted the above “wanted” poster picturing Reddit’s alien mascot and threatened to block the site throughout Russia if the cannabis-related thread wasn’t taken down immediately.
While Russia claims to be one of the world’s most recent converts to democracy, the country’s political system remains deeply flawed, flirting with the classic communism outcome of one man procuring too much power and refusing to give it up — Vladimir Putin. Roskomnadzor acts as the federal supervisor of communications, information, technology, and mass media, and has the power to block whatever websites or content it deems unfit from Russian citizens.
So far, that list includes The Pirate Bay, Wayback Machine, GitHub, and all sites in opposition to the Kremlin, including those of prominent politicians Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov, known for their criticism of Putin. Roskomnadzor also forced YouTube to remove content under threat of national blockage, and in 2013 Wikipedia was blocked across the country for allowing cannabis-related content on the site. (The Kremlin really does not like weed. In fact, when Washington D.C. voted to legalize marijuana, the Russian Health Ministry predicted that “everyone will become a drug addict.” And they say the Russian government has no sense of humor.)
Reddit recently changed its own rules related to discussion of illegal content or activity. Last month it posted the thread “Let’s talk content”, which stated that “anything illegal…things that are actually illegal, such as copyrighted material” would be removed from the site, but “discussing illegal activities, such as drug use, is not illegal” and is permitted on the site. It's a pretty straightforward, classic American approach to free speech — breaking the law is illegal, talking about breaking the law isn’t. (Patriot Act being the exception, of course.) But that’s just not how things work in Russia.
In addition to its threat of blocking Reddit throughout Russia (and the “wanted” poster, let’s not forget that), Roskomnadzor scolded Reddit for not immediately responding to its calls and emails, saying Reddit employees are simply “too relaxed during the August holidays.” Because you see, in Russia they walk 50 miles everyday through the freezing tundra to get to work, while we hedonist Americans spend the summer soaking up the sun and smoking all the weed.
Well, silly as it may be, Reddit complied with the Kremlin’s request to remove weed-related threads from the site. When faced with the choice of depriving all Russians from the time-wasting joys of Reddit or removing one thread about “trees,” I can’t say I wouldn’t make the same choice. Life in Russia sounds bleak enough as is. The sad part is a little “trees” might lighten up those long, cold nights out there in Sibera — or at the very least make Reddit users’ comments a little more amusing.