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Russia Cracks Down Online

Bloggers, Obama, Poodles Under Fire

Russia’s parliament has voted to enact a series of sweeping and far-reaching laws to monitor and restrict the actions of bloggers and those operating on social media. Any sites receiving more than 3000 daily viewers must register with the government mass media regulator, Roskomnadzor, and follow a set of new regulations put in place for those sites above a certain size.

The move has been condemned by international human rights watch organisations, with the New York-based Human Rights Watch condemning the new law as ‘draconian.’ Hugh Williamson decried Putin’s attempts to circumscribe internet activity in the country, calling the internet ‘the last island of free expression in the country.’

Russian state mass media has said that the law is intended to end the anonymity of those acting online in order to better be able to protect children from negative online content like pornography and pro-suicide sites. The laws place sites with over 3000 daily viewers as under the same restrictions as traditional media, with bans on false information and foul language.

There is no small irony in the timing of this law considering that Edward Snowden officially filed for refugee status in Russia on Thursday, following his asylum in the country after he faced prosecution in the United States for leaking details of the NSA’s mass surveillance of citizens. It is generally accepted, however, that Russia’s sheltering of Mr Snowden was not done as a blow for civil liberties but rather as a diplomatic act of aggression against the United States.

Mr Snowden himself called in to a live television interview with President Putin to question the former KGB official on Russia’s own mass surveillance of its citizens – a charge which Mr Putin denied.

Under the new laws all information gathered by Roskomnadzor must be stored in servers in Russian territory. It is difficult to see how the laws will be enforced, however, as many of the sites which would be targeted are located outside Russian territory. Popular blogging site LiveJournal has already altered its software to stop listing the exact amount of followers of each blog after 2500.

Many believe that the aim of the law is not to target individual bloggers, but rather to provide legal grounds for blocking big sites like Facebook and Twitter in Russia. Due to heavy state control, traditional mass media outlets are often muzzled in their criticism of the Russian government and so citizens must turn to these sites in order to air their views. They played a central role in disseminating information and helping people to organise during the protests against President Putin in 2011 – a thought which he may have in the back of his mind as he seeks to control the developing situation in Ukraine.

The Russian government itself often uses social media to its own ends. The same day as these new laws were reported, deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted a picture of Putin holding a leopard next to a Photoshopped image of American President Barack Obama holding a small poodle. The newly invasive laws, combined with this kind of devastating online repartee, means that Russia’s assault on the world of free social media doesn't look like it will be ending any time soon.

Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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Russia Cracks Down Online Reviewed by Anonymous on Friday, August 01, 2014 Rating: 5
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