On November 1st, Russian ISPs will be obliged to block websites that appear on the government's "black list". The voluntary implementation of this has already been a disaster [ruvr.ru]. It was originally envisioned that specific domains would be crudely blocked by IP addresses but that idea was scrapped and replaced with a list of criteria that ISPs must filter by [rt.com]. I have discussed the "black list" notion before [riemanns cut], and outlined my concerns over it, but it really does look like it could be an absolute disaster. Not necessarily because of some "horrendous evil clampdown on free-speech", but simply because of the ham-fisted technical aspects to it's implementation.
|Is that your vertical power in your pocket|
or are you just happy to see me?
There have been all kinds of other propositions for tightening of internet use in Russia. One of the more recent ones, suggested by Вадим Деньгин (Vadim Dengin), of the Liberal Democrat party, is that all Russians using social media must provide ID credentials (passport, drivers licence) when signing up. The same old reasoning is used for this: "prevention of fraud, protection of children..." Another idea, which turned out to be some Twitter "miscommunication", was a threat to block all of Youtube in Russia, voiced by Russian Telecom Minister, Николай Никифоров (Nikolai Nikigorov). Now that would be an absolute travesty if it went ahead, not because it blocked media going into Russia, but because it would block media going out.
Rather than blocking the Internet, and throwing up walls like was done in the past, why not use it for ones own gain. There are arguably two types of censorship. We are familiar with the easy to understand concept of subtractive censorship. This is where you cut out or block what you don't want others to see. Here in the "free" West we are used to a different kind of censorship though. An additive censorship, where the truth is not always withheld, but instead, it's obfuscated within a torrent of meaningless drivel so that we become blind to it's existence. Trying to extract the truth brings to mind the old allegory of trying to drink from fire hydrant. Unpalatable truths that refuse to hide are given a spin, a façade a veneer so that we feel good about them. We are more worried about happens to a character in a TV show than what is happening in the world. When we do become aware of "world news", it also takes the form a bad TV show where all leaders are depicted as two dimensional characters; black and white; good and evil. Cutting out ones influence in a medium just creates a void, for others to fill in.
Something I remember Leo Laporte [TWiT] saying (before I stopped listening) is that even if you hide away from the Internet, the Internet will still build a profile on you. Other people will start to dictate how your image and persona appears on the Internet. That may either be innocuous or deliberately designed with malice. The only way you can change this image of you, is to personally take charge of how you appear online. You must propagate so much positive and/or truthful mantra that you obliterate the negative slants and lies, and this is what should continue happen in Russia.
I've spoken before of the concept of "soft-power" [riemanns cut], and how Russia needs more of it. An example of some recent Russian soft-power that will be familiar to many came at the time of this year's Eurovision Song Contest. There was an amazing amount of interest in Buranovsky Babushka, a group of elderly singers from Russia [youtube]. Russian media were speaking of a new view of Russia from abroad. A more inviting, cute and cuddly Russia. At least, that's what they thought the world were thinking anyway. It didn't take long for that to fade though, and soon another group of Russian women took the Western limelight, propagating a much more sinister image of the country. And unfortunately, both for Russia and Pussy Riot, their agenda was quickly hijacked by external interests and turned into something it wasn't.
What's happening in Russia is important for us all to observe. Russian Internet was infamous for it's "liberties". It was these liberties and the crimes committed within them that have led to new laws and regulations being made. The same will happen here. We already have Internet black listing in Ireland, and in other countries. Earlier this year, Internet sensation, Sean Sherlock, signed into law the ability for third parties to seek injunctions against ISPs [riemann's cut] and as recently as last week, Irish ISP, UPC, has carried out a court ruling to block certain websites [torrentfreak]. Unlike print or televised media, information on the Internet doesn't need an agreeing third party publisher. It goes from source to end user. It opens up all kinds of dissenting and alternative voices, freedoms and illegalities. This troubles any monopoly and authoritarian, here or in Russia.
While I'm sure this law will provide endless fodder for Western entities to bash Russia over the head with, I honestly can't ever see a major "China-Style" clampdown on the Internet happening in Russia (not until the global Internet clamp down begins, at least). For the social reasons I mentioned, and for e-commerce, the clear flow of data in and out of Russia is important. Recent events like the Zuckerberg paying a dodgy visit to Moscow and meeting the Prime Minister, as well as eBay having set up a new Russian portal, point to an increasing vibrant Internet use in Russia. There are also major (but somewhat far-fetched) plans to get broadband to 95% of the populace before 2015 [broadbandtvnews], so contrary to what vibe these new laws might give, the ultimate goal is to get more Russians on and using the Internet.