Russian Internet vs. Russian Government: My Speech At a Conference
Yesterday I participated in a Conference on Cyber Dissidents held in Dallas jointly by George W. Bush Institute and Freedom House. Despite mixed feelings about GWB’s presidency, I decided to take part; I try to use every opportunity to share my views and listen to others. Both President Bush and his wife participated in the event too (Laura Bush stayed the whole day).
Thanks to the ash cloud from Iceland I had to participate via video conferencing. After all, it wouldn’t be a cyber dissidents event if everyone managed come and without these geek things. We used ooVoo and Skype and both worked well (the former one allowed multiple people to participate simultaneously but is either paid or ad-sponsored).
Here is a transcript of my speech:
It is honor for me to speak at this conference. I managed to watch most of the presentations and I find them amazing. I’ll share some experience that we have in Russia with the new media.
1. Almost all conventional media are blocked:
- TV directly or indirectly owned by the government;
- most radio stations and newspapers are either controlled by the authorities, or self-censored, or have little general impact.
2. Internet became a natural resort for people looking for uncensored information and free exchange of ideas.
3. Traditional ways of involvement into civic or political activities on the Internet are:
- users can gain access to alternative sources of news and opinions;
- people discuss political issues in blogs and forums that are extremely popular in the Runet (like LiveJournal);
- grassroots groups organize online and offline actions using social networks and blogs.
More online tools are utilized by protest groups including Twitter, video blogging, live broadcasts, civil journalism and Web 2.0.
Interestingly, more and more grassroots initiatives, not connected with any political groups, start on the Internet.
As penetration rate of the new technologies increases, they rapidly replace TV as the main political media.
4. Government is trying to stop this process. They are making it in a smarter way than Iranian or Chinese authorities. They don’t block all the “bad sites” right away. In fact, very few Websites are permanently blocked in Russia.
Instead, they hire hackers to put the Websites or blogs down. Targets of such attacks included Estonian official sites, leading independent online news media, opposition groups’ Websites and individual bloggers. Some of such attacks are extremely powerful and expensive.
Another way of dealing with “uncomfortable” bloggers is more conventional: persecution. Since 2008, more and more bloggers have been sentenced for “extremism.” After some recent amendments to the criminal law, almost any criticism may be considered inciting hatred against social groups–extremism. For instance, people who discussed police brutality were sentenced for inciting hatred against the police and a guy who criticized his governor was sentenced for inciting hatred against the local government as a social group. There’s no limit to your imagination.
Such showcases make many more bloggers think twice before posting anything critical.
Ultimately, the government invests a lot into their own resources. They hire Internet experts, make deals with leading sites and buy popular websites including LiveJournal. This is one of the most serious challenges to the protest groups because we’ll never match the government’s resources.
But we are still superior in creativity and enthusiasm.