MOSCOW – Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-controlled RT TV network, recently called on the government to block access to Western social media.
“Foreign platforms in Russia have to close,” she wrote.
Her choice of social media to send that message: Twitter.
Although the Kremlin is concerned about an open internet shaped by American companies, it cannot abandon it.
In the winter of disgruntled Russia, a nationwide wave of protests due to the return of opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, has been triggered by the country’s free and open internet. The state controls television waves, but online the spectacular arrest of Mr. Navalny on his arrival in Moscow, his investigation into President Vladimir Putin’s purposeful secret palace and calls for protest by His supporters are broadcast to millions of spectators.
For many years, the Russian government has applied technological and legal infrastructure to suppress the right to free speech online, leading to frequent predictions that the country may move towards internet censorship. Great Chinese firewall.
But even as Putin faced the biggest rally in years last month, his government has shown no desire – and to some extent, not – to block websites or take action. Other drastic measures to curb the spread of digital dissent.
The hesitancy underscores the challenge Putin faces as he tries to eliminate the political implications of cheap high-speed internet access to remote corners of the vast country while avoiding anger. one person fell in love with Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok.
“They are afraid,” said Dmitri Galushko, a telecommunications consultant in Moscow, about why the Kremlin has not been more restrained. “They have all these weapons, but they don’t know how to use them.”
More broadly, the question of how to deal with the internet poses a dilemma for Putin’s Russia: whether to lift the repression of the state to new heights and provoke a backlash. The public often tries to manage public dissatisfaction by maintaining some form of an open society.
In China, government control went hand in hand with the early growth of the internet. But in Russia, home to a Soviet legacy of enormous technical talent, the digital entrepreneurial spirit flourished freely for two decades, until Putin began trying to curb his speech. online following the 2011 and 2012 anti-government protests.
At the time, the open internet was so exerted in business and society – and its architecture so decentralized – that it was too late to completely change the course. But web censorship efforts, as well as requests by internet providers to install equipment for government surveillance and control, accelerated after the bill was passed by Congress. At the same time, internet access continued to expand, thanks in part to government support.
Russian officials now say they have the technology in place to allow the creation of a “sovereign RuNet” – a network that will continue to provide Russians with access to Russian websites even if the country suffers from cut off from the World Wide Web. The official line is that this expensive infrastructure provides protection in the event of Western nefarious forces trying to sever Russian communications links. However, activists say it is really intended to give the Kremlin the option to cut part or all of Russia out of the world.
“In principle, autonomous Russian web operations can be restored or allowed,” Dmitri A. Medvedev, vice chairman of Putin’s Security Council and former prime minister, told reporters near here. “Technically, everything is ready for this.”
Amid domestic turmoil this year, Russia’s strike on Silicon Valley has reached a new level. Mr. Navalny has mastered Google’s YouTube, Facebook’s Instagram and Twitter to reach tens of millions of Russians with official corrupt descriptions ready for his meme, up to the 850’s worth of toilet sweep. The dollar he claimed was determined at a property by Mr. Putin.
At the same time, Russia proved powerless to try to prevent these companies from blocking pro-Kremlin accounts or to force them to remove content supporting Navalny. (Mr. Navalny’s voice is resonating on social media even as he sits behind bars: On Saturday a court upheld his sentence of more than two years in prison.)
Russia’s telecommunications regulator, Roskomnadzor, has openly berated US internet companies, sometimes several times a day. On Wednesday, the regulator said that the Clubhouse voice chat social network violated the “right of citizens to access and distribute information freely” by suspending an account of a host. Famous state television, Vladimir Solovyov. On January 29, they announced that Google was blocking YouTube videos featuring the Russian national anthem, calling it “unacceptable rudeness and rudeness aimed at all citizens of our country.” “
Clubhouse apparently blocked Mr. Solovyov’s account because of user complaints, while Google said several videos featuring the Russian national anthem were blocked due to a bug due to content rights issues. Clubhouse did not respond to a request for comment.
In addition, as national calls for protests increased following Navalny’s arrest last month, Roskomnadzor said that social networks are encouraging minors to engage in illegal activities.
Russian social network VKontakte and a partly Chinese-owned TikTok app followed Roskomnadzor’s order to block access to protest-related content. But Facebook declined, saying, “This content does not violate our community standards.”
For all its criticism of American social media companies, the Kremlin has used them extensively to spread its message around the world. Facebook itself has served as a key tool in Russia’s effort to influence the 2016 US presidential election. On YouTube, the state-controlled RT network has a total of 14 million subscribers for channels in English, Spanish and Arabic.
Simonyan, the editor of RT, said she will continue to use US social media platforms as long as they are not banned.
“Quitting using these platforms while everyone else is using them is surrendering to the competition,” she said in a statement to The New York Times. “Forbidden everyone is to defeat the said enemy.”
A law signed by Putin in December gave his government new powers to block or restrict access to social networks, but the government has yet to use them. As regulators tried to block access to the messaging app Telegram that began in 2018, the two-year effort ended in failure after Telegram figured out how to address the restrictions.
Instead, officials are trying to lure Russians into social networks like VKontakte, which has close ties to the government. Gazprom Media, a subsidiary of a giant state-owned natural gas conglomerate, has promised to turn long-standing video platform RuTube into a competitor to YouTube. And in December, they said they bought an app simulated on TikTok called “Ya Molodets” – Russian meaning “I’m cool” – to share short videos on smartphones.
Andrei Soldatov, a journalist who co-wrote a book on the Kremlin’s efforts to control the Internet, said that the strategy of convincing people to use Russian platforms is one way to stop dissent. Spread at a time of crisis. As of April 1, all smartphones sold in Russia will be required to pre-install 16 Russian-made apps, including three social networks, and an answer to Apple’s voice assistant Siri. the name is Marusya.
“The goal is for regular Russian users to live in the Russian app bubble,” said Soldatov. “In terms of capability, it could be quite effective.”
Some activists say that even more effective is Putin’s push for selective repression. A new law states that online defamation can be fined up to 5 years in prison and the editor of a popular news website is jailed for 15 days for rewriting a joke related to a protest. love supporting Navalny in January.
Widely circulated video This month, a SWAT group in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok can be seen interrogating Gennady Shulga, a local video blogger who covers the protests. An officer wearing a helmet, goggles and combat clothing pressed Mr. Shulga to the bare brick floor next to two pet food bowls.
“The Kremlin is losing a lot in the information race,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, an internet activist. “Self-censorship and fear – that’s what we are aiming for.”
Oleg Matsnev contributed to the report.