Posts Tagged ‘Internet censorship’

Russian language social media platforms: effective tools for political lobbying.

November 20, 2010

This week I’ve been observing how a scandal, published on the famous social media platform Livejournal.ru spread to the mass media and within 24 hours caught the attention of Vladimir Putin’s press office.

Unsurprisingly, the story is about corruption and theft during the construction of a pipeline by the state-owned Transneft. A famous Russian blogger, Navalnyj, who has investigated the case for a few months, collected supporting documents and displayed his findings in an earnest and vigorous post , which he ironically called “How do they saw at Transneft”. In Russian there is an expression “ to saw the money “ from something. Usually, it’s used to describe situations where corrupt authorities steal large sums while working on government projects. The main message of the post is to point out that the highest echelons keep stealing and make a mockery of the country. The author passionately encourages his readers to repost and get as much publicity as possible. There is a press release in English for the international media. The post provoked a gush of anger from the Livejournal community and received 10000 comments.

I am fascinated by the role Facebook plays in Russia. As I mentioned in my earlier posts the Livejournal community has always been the place for highbrow discussions where small communities of Russian intellectuals spark debates about sociopolitical issues. However, it has always been limited and never enjoyed a greater outreach to a mainstream audience. I think its structure didn’t provide opportunities for sharing material as easily as Facebook does now. There were no Share and Like buttons. For example, I wouldn’t know about this post as I don’t have a Livejournal account except I saw a link to Navalnyj’s Livejournal post published on my wall, as one of my friends shared it. I was intrigued by the name of the post and, as I know that my friend is peculiarly interested in Russian political affairs sharing newsworthy stuff , I immediately followed it to check it out. Navalny has a page on Facebook with already more than 2000 friends. On the wall his status update says that he is not sure how to use Facebook and what kind of opportunties it has for dissemination of information and asks people to share the link.

Alexey Navalny

It looks like it’s going to be a great case study of how to use social media in Russia while lobbing political parties. Alexey Navalnyj directly asks the government to comment on the story and start an investigation. He suggests that top managers of the construction company should be arrested for theft and corruption. So far the story has received coverage in an influential business-focused Russian media outlet Vedomosti The mainstream media like Pervj kanal typically praises the opening of a new Transneft pipeline. It’s amazing how the situation is changing. Just a while ago to draw attention to such a dangerous story you had to go to great lengths to convince editors to publish it and make available it to public. Nowadays, a well written post creates such a fuss and gets noticed by the premier within 24 hours. Great news for Russia and I am going to keep an eye on this event which will make it into the textbooks of political PR.


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

August 22, 2010

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.

Russia: The end of YouTube — the official beginning of Internet censorship?

July 29, 2010

The news about Russia’s Far East court’s decision to ban access to YouTube and three online libraries, Lib.rus.ec, Thelib.ru and Zhurnal.ru has been actively discussed online in both languages. According to the court, the reason for banning these sites is that they host extremist ideological materials such as a video called Russia for Russians, promoting nationalism and writings by Adolf Hitler.

I’ve been always curious about the question of Internet censorship in Russia and this story proves that it exists and puts the Internet in danger as the last uncensored medium in Russia.

Freedom of expression is the main condition for democracy. When a local court in Russia bans access to YouTube this means that they don’t respect the essence of the political system of their own country. The beauty of democracy is that everyone has the opportunity to choose their beliefs, lifestyle and to express their point of view. The Internet is a great tool for facilitating such an exchange. Obviously, racism is unacceptable behaviour and it should be taken seriously by the government. However, there is no need to ban an entire international website and those interested in learning about Nazi ideas will circumvent this obstacle.

Nowadays, all democratic counties face the problem of racism; however, I am not aware of any cases where access to YouTube was banned in EU or US. Despite the fact that many countries have been suffering from racial conflicts for a long time, they don’t ban online access to information on this topic, as they take into consideration the fact that everyone has the right to freedom of speech. Actually, this court’s ruling is unconstitutional as it breaches the right to freedom of information, guaranteed by Article 29 of Russia’s Constitution.

 Today a court in Komsomolsk-on-Amur has applied the Soviet style censorship model, tomorrow other local authorities in Russia might follow their lead and start banning online content they find provocative or distributing. More likely, many Russians will support this idea as they are used to the fact that Soviet authorities controlled the information people have access to. I haven’t previously come across major cases of the Internet censorship in Russia and this one seems to be the boldest, banning a massive international site.

 This story is an example of Russia’s vastness and how hard is to ensure that innovative ideas are introduced equally in all parts the country. While Dmitry Medvedev is actively promoting the Internet to the masses and watches Youtube himself, local authorities elsewhere in the province are banning access to such a popular website, including Medvedev’s channel. In the meantime, I can’t imagine that a court in Moscow would ban access to YouTube and leave the population and all businesses based in the capital without such a ubiquitous channel.

Hopefully, the Internet savvy Dmitry Medvedev will ask the court to reconsider their decision and people in Far East of Russia will once again have access to YouTube.


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