How Russian bloggers fought wildfires, and the official introduction of Internet censorship.

Recent wildfires in Russia and the failure of the authorities to deal effectively with the disaster  has provoked another wave of grievances with the present political regime. During this catastrophe the Russian blogosphere was full of negative remarks and discussions about the incompetence of the government. As far as I know, many intellectual and open-minded Russians are not satisfied with the current political regime which they see as corrupted, hypocritical and leading the country away from democracy, freedom of expression and human rights.

Nowadays more Russians believe that social media is the only trustworthy source of information and get the news from blogs, ignoring traditional mass media. This makes sense as major media outlets belong to the state or oligarchs who have strong connections to Putin and Medvedev’ team. Thus, main media outlets don’t cover news damaging to the reputation of the government, so people acquire a biased picture of everyday life in Russia.  Medvedoputi Медведопуты, a new term in Russian denoting Putin and Medvedev’s government and their supporters who controlthe mass media, seeing the Internet as the only place where reality can be covered adequately.

The way information about wildfires was presented in the media reminds me  of the soviet style communication system, when biased news was disseminated to people and strict censorship was the norm.History is repeating itself as the Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu is reassuring the public from TV screens across the nation that the situation is under control while it clearly wasn’t.

Many bloggers volunteered to assist in firefighting while others reported on a progress of their efforts as volunteers or correspondents kept informing about the state of firefighting efforts and encouraged people to participate and help each other. I enjoyed reading a witty and insisive post by a young woman, volunteer, who published her letter to Shoigu,responsible for dealing with wildfires all over Russia. This humorous and critical post received a huge response from bloggers and achieved 2368 comments! Another  good example of the increasing significance of social media is when the highly respected editor-in-chief of the Russian radio station “Echo Moskvy” Aleksey Venediktov re-posted a letter addressed to Putin from one of his listeners. In the letter a man explained why wildfires were so hard to stop, accusing civil servants and local authorities of theft, indifference and corruption. A great video called Civil Servants in English on this topic can be found here. Interestingly, Putin responded to this post with explanations of why it’s difficult to extinguish fires.

Undoubtably, the Russian government is monitoring blogosphere very carefully and there are many concerns in the online community about the introduction of Internet Censorship. The first step to restricting the freedom of speech has been taken with introduction of the ”one day rule”. In June the Supreme Court of Russia gave the right to Roskomnadzor, a federal service that supervises Internet and mass media communications for the Russian Ministry of Telecommunications to force websites to delete comments within one day of being notified or risk losing their mass media registration.When Roskomnadzor finds a comment they consider  inappropriate they will serve a notice to the outlet by email with a screenshot of the comment  The comment must then be removed within 24 hours,come to the  ” one day rule”. If the comment is not removed within the required time the outlet might lose their media registration.

Obviously,the purpose of this law is to prevent a dissimilation of unhealthy content sparkling racist violence and other dangerous behavior. However, it also opens the door for authorities to tighten their grip on the Internet media. Especially, taking into consideration the famous Russian corruption, when local authorities abuse their power and pursue individual goals by manipulating laws. I believe that the issue of censorship is going to be one of the top topics discussed  within online communities and I’ll be keeping a close eye on this topic.

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