Russia is Outlawing Celebrity Memes

By Darren Orf on at

Russia likes outlawing things. Last year, they got rid of swearing in all forms of media, and even did away with any film that 'threatened national unity.' With such unchecked restrictions on freedom of expression, it was only a matter of time before they came for our memes.

According to Roskomnadzor and spotted by Global Voices, it’s now illegal to use a celebrity in a meme that has nothing to do with that celebrity—meaning basically every celebrity meme ever made.

So why the sudden meme-ageddon? Supposedly it’s all because of this thing:

Russia Is Outlawing Celebrity Memes

So that’s Russian singer Valeri Syutkin, whose songs are all about romance. Kind of like the Nicholas Sparks of romantic Russian ballads. But “BBPE,” according to Global Voices’ Kevin Rothrock, is an acronym of the phrase “Bei Babu po Ebalu” meaning “Smack the Bitch in the Face” from a 2005 song with famously derisive lyrics. I won’t pretend to understand Russian humour, but clearly the jarring juxtaposition is the joke.

But the Kremlin isn’t laughing, a court ruled in Moscow that the meme damaged Syutkin’s privacy, which prompted the Kremlin to supposedly pass the law. Here’s the specific language per Google Translate:

Violation of legislation on personal data in relation to public figures includes...Use the photo as a public person impersonation popular Internet meme, unrelated to the identity of “celebrity.” The methods of processing of personal data violate the requirements of the legislation on personal data and defaming the honour, dignity and business reputation of the public persons. Roscomnadzor refers to the administration of resources with the demand to remove illegal information, if it does not - to sue.

But it’s possible—and likely—there is more going on beneath the surface, because memes have often been used to voice political dissent. Last year, memes used during the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests were able to sneak by national censors in China. So really restricting memes by protecting “privacy” is really only part of the conversation, if really even the conversation at all. This one example could attack of whole swatch of image-based online humour and even outlaw political memes, such as the very popular Putin Riding a _____ meme.

One of the best ways to respond to such obvious freedom of speech restrictions is with a meme of your own. [Global Voices]

Russia Is Outlawing Celebrity Memes