Vladimir Putin does not like the internet.
New laws recently approved by parliament create a range of demands for social networks, bloggers, and service providers which have been denounced as draconian and crippling by those affected.
All user details and information will have to be made available to authorities, while blogs will be proscribed from covering a range of subjects.
Taken together, says Victor Davidoff, a writer on the Russian blogosphere for the Moscow Times, the measures will “instantly put Russia in first place for internet censorship. Even China, which until recently was No 1 in that category, will be far behind”.
Davidoff quotes one popular Russian microblogger’s macabre quip: “The Russian internet is 20 years old. What a shame to die so young.”
The founder of Russia’s Facebook-esque social network VKontakte, meanwhile, has fled overseas, complaining that Kremlin loyalists have seized control of the site.
The country, he tells TechCrunch, is “incompatible with internet business at the moment”.
Tonia Samsonova of the independent broadcaster Ekho Moskvy meanwhile reckons that things could yet get worse.
Every time we wonder, is it possible to have more propaganda and more pressure, but then it turns out it is possible … someone is knocking from the underground and we realise we can go lower and lower and lower in terms of freedom. And I think there is a lot of room for making things worse for internet freedom in Russia …
Their ultimate goal is to have no oppositional thinkers posting.
As Index notes, the pressure on online activity in Russia, follows state pressure on traditional broadcast and print media which led to people to “start looking for alternative platforms for real debate”.
The old media remains a clear Kremlin focus, however.
In late April, President Putin signed an executive order assigning 300 people with medals and “other official distinctions”. The recipients have since been revealed, writes Julia Smirnova from Moscow for the German newspaper Die Welt (translated at WorldCrunch). “All, without exception, were journalists.”
They were garlanded for their “high level of professionalism and objectivity in their reporting about events in the Crimean Republic … Not a single person working for the country’s few independent media was mentioned.”
The story of the Russian conflict with Ukraine is given a historical hue through most of the press, Smirnova says.
Parallels to World War II — that actually mean something for those who lived through the Soviet era — are constantly drawn. The new government in Kiev is compared to Nazi Germany. The words “fascism” and “fascists” are commonly used … It draws on the Soviet myth that the Russian “nation of winners” actually wants peace but has to fight back hard when attacked. Another idea being used is the inferiority complex that grew after the fall of the Soviet Union. All of these themes influence Russia’s public opinion.
At the same time, a dangerous, highly inflammatory mix of hate and hyper-patriotism is growing. These campaigns have tragic consequences in the real world. Last year, ahead of Moscow’s mayoral elections, Russian media focused their reporting on illegal immigrants. A nationalist pogrom took place in a Moscow suburb as a result.
Russia is conducting a special kind of war in Ukraine. It claims not to be involved. The reality is that is it waging an indirect war — with the help of shady separatists and, of course, of the media.
See also: Russia’s troll factory