- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Russian government has concluded that emojis that come pre-installed on Apple iPhones don’t violate the federal law against promoting homosexuality to minors, sparing the Silicon Valley company from being fined for infringing on the Kremlin’s so-called “gay propaganda” ban.

Experts certified by Roskomnadzor, the Russian government’s online watchdog, said this week that certain smiley faces and other emoticons included in the iOS operating system don’t run afoul of a law passed in 2013 that prohibits the “propaganda of nontraditional relationships,” contrary to claims made last summer by conservative lawmakers in Moscow.

Roskomnadzor launched an inquiry at Apple’s request in July amid allegations its emojis encouraged homosexual behavior, but its experts recently concluded that the small digital images sent between iPhone users can carry both “positive” and “negative” connotations that are open to interpretation, local media reported on Tuesday.

“The sequence in which emoji appear will change in the context of a conversation. They can be used in approval or disapprove of certain concepts or actions,” the experts said, the Izvestia newspaper reported on Tuesday, as translated by the Medusa news site.

If the censor’s experts concluded otherwise, then Apple could have faced fines ranging from 800,000 to 1 million rubles, as well as a temporary suspension within Russia’s borders.

“These emojis of non-traditional sexual orientation are seen by all users of the social network, a large portion of whom are minors,” Mikhail Marchenko, a senator in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said last year when he urged the online watchdog to open a probe. “But propaganda of homosexuality is banned under the laws and under the pillars of tradition that exist here in our country.”

More broadly, Russia’s controversial law prohibits the promotion of information alleged to be harmful to a child’s health and development, including advocating for drug and alcohol use, as well as prostitution, vagrancy, suicide and “non-traditional sexual relationships.”

Roskomnadzor’s probe specifically focused on emojis that depict cigarettes, alcoholic drinks and same-sex couples, the likes of which critics had accused of unlawfully influencing Russia’s youth.

Russian legislator Vitaly Milonov said previously that Apple products should be banned in Russia because CEO Tim Cook is openly gay. A monument to his predecessor, the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, was taken down in St. Petersburg after Mr. Cook’s coming out. 

More recently, the State Duma was slated to consider a law this week that would impose fines of up to 5,000 rubles against same-sex couples caught committing public displays of affection.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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