May 7, 2014; New York Times
Russian President Vladimir Putin has little faith in the global Internet—he believes the whole thing is a CIA project, and wants to see an alternate network under Russian control. In the face of this, it’s no surprise that new legislation signed by Putin on Monday puts heavy obstacles in the path of those who would try to use an online platform to spread information or engage in personal reportage.
The new law classifies any website with more than 3,000 visitors a day as a media outlet, equivalent to a newspaper. Any such site has until August 1st to register with Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media oversight agency, which means that bloggers and reporters who relied on anonymity for protection will no longer be able to do so. In addition, as reported on Mashable, “social networks and search engines will be required to keep records of all information posted on their sites dating back six months. The records must be kept within Russia’s borders. Punishment for breaking the law can result in a shutdown of the offending website and/or a fine of up to $142,000.”
Reporters without Borders elaborates:
“The bill defines the term “blogger” for the first time as ‘a person who posts open information on a personal page’ that gets at least 3,000 visits a day…Bloggers (as defined) are reminded of a long list of prohibitions that already apply to all citizens: that it is forbidden to use a blog to carry out crimes, to disseminate information involving a state secret, to disseminate content of an extremist nature, and so on. But the bill also imposes obligations on them that approach those of journalists. They will be required to confirm the accuracy of the information they post, to respect the electoral law and to refrain from using swear words. Using blogs and social networks to ‘hide or falsify information of general interest’ or bring a citizen or group into disrepute will be forbidden. Such vaguely-worded bans are open to every kind of interpretation.
“Bloggers (as defined) will also be held responsible for the comments posted on their page and will be required to withdraw any inaccurate content without delay.”
Anton Nosik, a prominent Russian blogger and online media expert, told Reuters that Russia’s drive to close off the country from the Internet is rooted in a desire “to restrict free information exchange, restrict expression of opinion, be it in written text, speech or video. They want to restrict everything because they’re headed towards the ‘glorious past.’” He also compares Russia’s new Internet policy unfavorably with China’s, which is no landmark of openness.
Russian websites are already making statements and taking action regarding the new law. Since the legislation is vague as to who is responsible for determining the number of visitors to a site, which is the means by which “blogger” status is determined, sites like the Livejournal social media platform and the search engine Yandex have said they’ll simply program their counters to stop at 2,500. Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte, the Russian equivalent to Facebook, has fled the country after refusing to hand over user details of anti-Putin protestors to the authorities.
This is only the latest in a series of Russian crackdowns on independent media. Over the years, NPQ has given coverage to Russia’s efforts to clamp down on nonprofits and NGOs, local broadcasters, dissident musicians, and gays and lesbians. This new anti-blogging measure is certain not to be the last…and what’s more, we’ll hear less and less about future ones because of it.—Jason Schneiderman