Signs of censorship on the Russian Internet

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The Kremlin has so far refrained from Internet censorship measures. Now, a bill on access to social networks could mark a change of pace.

When analyzing the different approaches to the web in countries with some deficit of democracy, the subject ends up usually to Russia and China. While the latter is notorious for overwhelming censorship imposed on the whole network of the country, protected by the imposing firewall that prevents access to major Western sites and social networks, Russia stands for freedom its government leaves to the RuNet, as is called the Russian web.

This does not mean that the Kremlin ignores the potential – and the dangers to its power – represented by the Internet. The Russian government has in fact chosen a more sophisticated control, though less illiberal when compared to Beijing’s “Great firewall”. Nevertheless, it’s no less pervasive. A system that, for example, allows Alexey Navalny to publish his video against the corruption of politicians on YouTube, or prevents millions of Russians from watching them. A system that leaves room for dissident blogs, lets them post on Facebook and VK, or tweet against – for instance – the Prime minister. But it’s also a system that has created a blogosphere controlled by the government, able to manipulate the information flow on the network, and a troll army that pollutes the information posted on social networks. And even a system capable of imprisoning citizens for sharing contents or putting a like to a post on Facebook.

Now, however, things could change. And get worse

The crackdown on social networks

As Isvestija newspaper reports, it could be soon submitted a new bill that, if passed, will make it much harder life of RuNet.

The legislation, according to the newspaper, will soon be submitted to the Duma by the Assembly of Leningrad region (as the St. Petersburg region is still called), ban children under the age of 14 from creating accounts on social media and require adults to use their real names and passport information.

Violators would face administrative fines as high as $5,000.

Even more worringly, the law also would double down on a pre-existing rule that bans Internet users from sharing information about “unsanctioned” public demonstrations, by explicitly criminalizing this type of sharing. What that seems to be a direct response to recent weeks mass demonstrations. The law would also make it illegal to publish correspondence with another social media user without his individual consent.
It is a rule that severely affects users of Russian social networks, especially VK, the so-called “Russian Facebook”. A quantum leap in censorship, if compared to the past, when its founder Pavel Durov reportedly was forced to sell his shares due pressure by secret service.

The draft impinges directly the so called “Generation P” (the definition is by Lucia Sgueglia on La Stampa), those Millennials born in Putin era and who have never known any other alternative to him; the same people who filled the streets and squares of Russia in recent days to protest against the government and the president.
A bill, finally, that if passed will make the Russian web more similar to that of other totalitarian regimes.



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