Staunton, December 14 – The Russian Freedom Committee (Roskomsvoboda), says that Moscow has officially blocked 250,000 internet sites but that if you add to these the blocked mirror sites and sub-domains of these sites, the actual number of addresses the Russian authorities have blocked is more than nine million (reestr.rublacklist.net/visual).
Maksim Litavrin of the Open Russia organization whose sites Moscow is seeking to block now, points out however that Russians in large numbers seek to get around these bans in various ways. Over the last three months, research says, Russians have tried to reach prohibited sites 84 million times, a number that continues to rise (openrussia.org/notes/717268/).
The largest share of sites the courts or government agencies have blocked are pornography sites and torrent trackers, and it is these rather than social media calls to meetings or other political actions that Russians “encounter most often in their daily lives,” Litavrin says. That does not mean the others are not important.
“When a [Russian] user tries to reach a forbidden site,” he continues, “without using the means of getting out blocking, the provider as a rule redirects him to a special technical page which warns that the site [he or she is seeking] has been blocked by a decision of the government.”
According to Litavrin, “about 35 percent of users try to go to blocked addresses directly” and another 31 percent do so when they are redirected from other sites. “An enormous share among them,” the Open Society researchers says, “are sites with pornography.”
The Open Society researcher points out that “pornography sites in Russia do not have a very clear legal status. As a rule, courts block them entirely at the demand of the procuracy.” But the system does not work very well from the point of view of the state: “The largest torrent tracker in Russia, Pornolab … was blocked completely by a court deision a year ago but users as before continue to try to go to it.”
Most of this traffic – a combined 85 percent – comes from those who are using VKontakte and Facebook. The former works closely with the Russian authorities and often remove objectionable content on their own, thus reducing the number of people who are redirected to warning pages.
But the latter “on the contrary cooperates with Russia extremely unwillingly; and therefore those who use it experience such redirections more often.