Did Russia Just Censor All 26,439 Squarespace Sites Over a Satirical Gay Art PDF File?

September 20, 2013 | Marina Galperina

Have you heard of Rospotrebnadzor? We haven’t, until 30 minutes ago, when Anatoli Ulyanov of art site Looo.ch told ANIMAL that Rospotrebnadzor — Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare — has blocked their site and added it into the Registry of Forbidden Sites.

This means that every ISP in Russia is blocking Looo.ch from their customers. We have no complains or explanations from the federal institution, responsible for this act of censorship.

Along with Looo.ch, 26,439 sites are banned in Russia — everyone using the Squarespace platform, which powers Looo.ch. We’re waiting on a response from Squarespace.

Looo.ch is a (currently) New York-based art, technology, criticism, and travel website run by Ukrainian expats Natasha Masharova and Anatoli Ulyanov since 2010. Along with original documentaries, theory pieces and art images, Looo.ch has published a few provocative e-books, including two directly responding to Russia’s new “anti-gay propaganda” laws.

The law — part of the massive onslaught of new anti-gay legislation — says that it protects minors from being “exposed” to the “propaganda” of homosexuality. In reality, it bans any “public” display of “non-traditional orientations” or pro-LGBT rights sentiments. That includes holding a rainbow flag. It extends to the internet and Children 404 — an illegal Russian equivalent of the online It Gets Better LGBT youth project. The Looo.ch books are provocatively titled Homosexuality for Kids: A Textbook With Pictures and Lesbianism for Kids: A Textbook With Pictures. [NSFW]

One look through them and you know they’re not gay textbook for children. If you don’t, you are silly or a tyrannical Kremlin minion.

While stylized as a picture book and riddled with emoticons, it features gay and lesbian imagery — some is explicit, some is not. Some is reminiscent of the books your embarrassed parents handed you when you noticed you’re about to hit puberty and can’t bring themselves to talk to you about it.

Sometimes, when you look at another boy, you suddenly feel happy and strange.

Ultimately, between the Tumblr-style collage of hot girls, softcore gifs and art references, some basic points are delivered in fuchsia Times New Roman, there’s cultural criticism. A page featuring a beaming, bloody, breastfeeding new mother and her discarded placenta reads…

They say that to make a child, you need to a mom and a dad. Isn’t it cool that we live in the 21s century when science creates miracles! Thanks to science, you can get impregnated by the Holy Ghost even! Like the Virgin Mary!

This is why they’ve been censored, Ulyanov is convinced. “The censors read anything with ‘homosexuality’ and ‘child’ in one sentence as ‘child pornography… According to the law, they’re supposed to inform us that we have 3 days to take off anything that Russia considers as god fucking shit [sic: obscene], but they didn’t. They just closed us.”

This isn’t the first time Looo.ch got in trouble for “controversial” content. They a good share of hate mail and death threats and have been kicked off Russian servers. Their “right to death” suicide-themed ebook was recently banned and they’ve migrated the books to downloadable PDF files.

“Files are bigger and better than sites,” Ulyanov who’s a free tools and pirate technology enthusiast, tells ANIMAL. “We’re not programmers and since we are static media that can be banned by the hosting company, we can survive with the file. By keeping the files, you’re fucking Russia, which is good thing to do.” So how do you get a PDF file out of Russia? Ulyanov says that blocking the entire Squarespace would do the trick, until they create an alternate path to the site. Or use proxies. Or TOR. Or download it elsewhere. Nice try though.

Looo.ch’s mission statement is pretty direct. Their content can get pretty intense.

We don’t care for “social decorum”, “matters of national security”, “copyright”, “ideology”, and other grounds for repression of culture evolution.

But even if you aren’t a decided cultural trouble-maker and habitual line-stepper (Ulyanov has quite the bio/rap sheet), don’t get too comfortable in Russia.

In the same round of bans, Rospotrebnadzor issued a warning to Facebook for advertising “Spice,” a synthetic weed substitute that is illegal in Russia. Allegedly, if they don’t comply and remove the ads, Facebook could be blocked from Russian-based ISPs too.


UPDATE: Squarespace responded to our inquiry. “We are currently investigating on why this is occurring. Once we have more information on this, we will relay the message to you. Also thank you for supplying us with that additional info.” Uh-oh.

UPDATE 09/23 7:15 AM: I’ve been emailing all weekend. Most recent email from Squarespace: “We don’t have any updates on this as of yet… Thanks for your continued patience in this matter.”