On Tuesday, April 29th, the upper house of Russia’s parliament confirmed a law which puts up tighter regulations for Internet blogging.
The packet of rules consists of various Internet oriented laws, like bigger control over the information exchange and internet payment. But the part which received the most criticism is where internet bloggers that have 3000 and more followers have to reveal their identities, fact-check the information they share and not share any extremist information or information that violates citizen rights. Also – to commit to pre-election silence.
The human rights activists say that it will be nearly impossible for blog writers to keep up with such requirements from the government. Critics and the opposition activists call this law Vladimir Putin’s shot at silencing people who spread unfavorable information about him. Such law will be devastating for the members of opposition who don’t get almost any TV time because internet was their main gate to reaching citizens of Russia.
“The new policy is to restrict free information exchange, restrict expression of opinion, be it in written text, speech or video. They want to restrict everything because they’re headed towards the ‘glorious past’,” Anton Nosik, a prominent Russian blogger and online media expert, told Reuters. But the Kremlin denies such talks about censorship and pressure on the internet, saying that Russians have their civil rights to an opinion, and can freely express it.
The Russian Duma has already expressed its support for the project, so now the law only needs a signature from President Vladimir Putin. Unfortunately, Russia’s President has recently called the Internet a “C.I.A. project” that has “evolved in this manner”—that is, with interests opposed to Russia’s—ever since its creation. So it’s unlikely he’d refuse to sign the document.
According to data from 2013, Russia with its 61 million online users is the fastest growing audience of internet users in Europe, so it’s to no surprise that the government targeted the Internet as their main target to keep control over their citizens.
Prior to adopting regulations on bloggers, the authorities blocked three leading independent online portals using another law, which entered into force in February and authorizes the prosecutor to block access to websites without a court order if they allegedly contain “extremist” content, call for mass riots, or call for participation in unsanctioned public gatherings. Access to Grani.Ru, Kasparov.Ru, and EJ.Ru has been blocked for Russian users for nearly two months. In March, Lenta.Ru, a major online outlet well known for objective coverage of current affairs, was effectively destroyed through the dismissal of its editor-in-chief and executive director and resulting resignation of its entire team of journalists. On April 21, Pavel Durov, founder and CEO of VKontakte, the most popular Russian-language social network, announced he had lost his job and left Russia, citing his refusal to comply with demands by the authorities to block controversial users and communities.
It’s obvious that the Russian government will keep on trying to control not only the information spread by their citizens, but also the worldwide flow of it. Last Friday Facebook received Russia’s request to remove a page that’s linked to suicides. If Facebook refused, it would’ve been blocked in whole of Russia. And that’s only one example out of many.
Still, some of Russia’s social platforms have already accepted new regulations. Among them are such sites as LiveJournal – the most popular Russian blog platform, and Russia’s leading search engine Yandex. LiveJournal director Dmitry Pilipenko said the site would no longer display the number of subscribers a blog had if the figure exceeded 2,500. But his decision was received as an emotional decision to protect their users, and the government will definitely find a way to get what they want.
If we look back at Russian government’s decisions in the last few months – the annexation of Crimea, cutting off the pro-Western talks in public sector, the fight with the Internet – we can assume that going back to Soviet Union’s system and separating itself from the rest of the world is definitely in Russia’s plans. Slowly, little by little, Russia is letting the Iron Curtain down, and the only question left is will they really make it happen?