Russia is no stranger to internet crackdowns. President Vladimir Putin has issued his fair share of blockages, outages, shutdowns, and punishments for bloggers who voice opposition towards the government. As the web is increasingly used as a forum for dissenters, the government searches for ways to stifle it. So the latest legislative attempt by Russia’s parliament to intensify restrictions against media content and bloggers is not a surprising move. But as internet users in Russia grow in number, reactions to the tightening of web rules become more aggressive.
VISUAL CONTEXT: FACEBOOK IN RUSSIA
Russia’s parliament has approved a measure that requires bloggers who host sites that receive over 3,000 page views daily to reveal personal information about themselves and abide by rules to not disseminate extremist information. This new ruling has Russia’s burgeoning technology community up in arms, naturally. Whereas, in years past, Russia did not have much of an internet presence to boast of, the country is now home to the second most popular social media site in Europe after Facebook called Vkontakte or VK, and its biggest search engine Yandex is increasingly profitable each quarter. The company — considered Russia’s equivalent of Google — controls half of all advertising on Russia’s internet, and therefore stands to make solid profits from online advertising. The Wall Street Journal quotes a spokesperson for Yandex: “The adoption of the law will become a yet another step in increasing government control over the internet in Russia, which will negatively impact the development of the industry.”
Historically, the government has shut down websites and other portals on the net justifying their closure with 2012 law giving the government the power to block websites deemed harmful to children. But this latest legislation does not boast of any guise except one aimed at restricting the publishing of content online, nor is it out of character for Putin to go to extreme measures regarding internet control. Last week he issued public statements about how the internet is a “CIA project” — mirroring fears that have grown on an international level surrounding the level of control the U.S. has over the web, and what it can see through its lens.
While Putin has been in favor of Russia developing its own version of the internet — something that Germany and Brazil have discussed since the Snowden/NSA revelations — it is unlikely to happen without some encouragement of the internet sector. Clearly, with such restrictive legislation, developers are unlikely to want to build internet-based projects that could be heavily monitored, limited, fined, or shut down at a whim. This latest law will only injure Russia’s web-based markets.