Staunton, April 18 – FSB efforts to shut down the Telegram messenger service – and there can be no doubt that the security services are the proximate author of this effort – are going to have far more consequences and negative ones at that for the freedom of Russians than positive ones for security, according to Yekaterinburg commentator Aleksey Shaburov.
“The blocking of the popular messenger service already has become one of the main political events of the year” in Russia, Shaburov says, with the authorities insisting that it has to take this step in order to be able to combat terrorists who have used Telegram on occasion (politsovet.ru/58711-politicheskie-prichiny-i-posledstviya-blokirovki-telegram.html).
And “one must say,” he continues, “that at first glance this argument is quite strong. Before us is the classical contradiction of security and freedom.” Moreover, “the argument works.” Most people “do not want to live in fear for their lives … But if one thinks a little more, then we begin to see that security is in its own way a kind of fiction.”
Of course, “if we are asked to choose between a world full of dangers and a situation of absolute security, then we will choose the second. But absolute security is a myth, a utopia which will not be achieved; and what is more, it cannot be achieved by means of the complete surrender of freedom.”
Not only “will an unfree individual by definition by subjected to dangers,” Shaburov says, but “in fact, while the rejection of freedom may allow for the avoidance of one kind of danger – non-governmental terrorism – it increases the risk of another danger – state terrorism.” And the latter has claimed far more lives than the former.
The effort to block Telegram, he continues, “is nothing other than the latest example of the classical conflict between security and freedom which in fact will have more consequences for freedom than for security,” increasing the power of the state while limiting the freedom of the population.
Another aspect of this situation, Shaburov says, is “the clash of the state and the Internet or more precisely the state and social networks.” This isn’t the first such clash in Russia, and such clashes are hardly limited to Russia alone because states prefer vertical channels of the dissemination of information while social networks are horizontal ones.
Thus, “the larger social networks become, the more the state fears for its own power.” And with good reason: the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as US president show how social networks can in fact “destroy” the pre-existing political system by undermining the state’s ability to regulate the flow of news from a relatively small number of outlets.
“Social networks changed everything,” Shaburov says. “they created a mechanism of disseminating information which could completely escape the control of the state. And this is a genuinely serious challenge” to the powers that be because it promoted radical populism and anti-government and anti-elite attitudes.
Thus, it is “completely understandable why the state began to attack social networks by the most varied means, legislative and through the use of force,” with targets including not only Pavel Durov in Russia but Mark Zuckerberg in the United States. But “this is not simply a personal conflict between politicians and businessmen,” Shaburov says.
“The governments are struggling in order to continue to exist in their current form.”
There are thus long-term consequences arising from this conflict: “Now, we observe how a significant number of people are seeking ways to get around the blocking,” an example of “how people massively are learning to resist state power at the everyday level.” Those who are doing so are engaging in “their own small revolt.”
“This micro-revolt,” he says, “while remaining the person affair of each is turning out to be sufficiently massive. It is not creating any political movement but inevitably it is changing the attitude of people toward the authorities and their tactics of behaving in relationship to the government.”
According to Shaburov, “if the first attempt at resistance proves successful, then the individual with a high degree of probability will repeat it again and again. Sooner or later, this will create a threat for the political regime. But one must stress that one is talking about a specific regime but not about the governmental mechanism as a whole.”
Optimists say that technology can’t be stopped and that “’the Internet will defeat the state,” the commentator observes. “But more likely, there is no given direction, and the defeat of the state in a fight with the Internet is hardly guaranteed.” The state retains enormous resources, and it may be able to learn how to control and use the Internet to its advantage.
If that should prove to be the case, Shaburov argues, then the Internet will only further strengthen the power of the government. “It is completely possible that this will be the case” here. But it is also possible that the social networks will give birth to “a new form of state power.”
Indeed, “it is no accident” that some are already suggesting that Telegram’s Pavel Durov should run for president of Russia.”