Staunton, December 25 – The Kremlin wants to block protests by shutting down portions of the Internet or frightening people from posting by bringing criminal charges against those who do, but it does not appear to recognize that it may provoke protests by doing so and that if it blocked YouTube, it could create a revolutionary situation, Leonid Volkov says.
The Navalny associate who is the founder of the Russian Society for the Defense of the Internet points out that except for the Moscow election demonstrations, protests against Internet blocking were the largest demonstrations in Russia in the last two years (znak.com/2019-12-25/pochemu_rossiyskim_vlastyam_vazhno_nauchitsya_tochechno_otklyuchat_internet_k_2021_godu).olkov
The Kremlin clearly wants to suppress protests by blocking the internet, Volkov says; but despite threats to shut the entire internet down, the Putin regime has no such plans: the costs of doing so in an economy and society like Russia’s are simply too high. “Plans would cease to fly, banks, exchanges and businesses as a whole would cease to work.”
And while the regime might like to shut down YouTube, which has a Russian audience of 40 million a day, it won’t because “the last thing which a government headed by an aging dictator who is losing popularity wants to do is to infuriate 30 million apolitical users of YouTube.”
Were the Kremlin to block YouTube even for a few days, “of these 30 million apolitical useers, some three million would become politically active and also hate you for the fact that they were forced to give up their customary rituals and procedures because YouTube is very firmly rooted in their lives. I hope that [those in the Kremlin] understand this,” Volkov says.
Brazil and Turkey are places where the regimes blocked services and sent millions into the street to protest. “Blocking YouTube [in Russia] could create a quasi-revolutionary situation” that no one now in power needs. Consequently, he continues, the regime will try to target posts and sites more narrowly in the coming year.
That won’t be easy with regard to posts on major services like YouTube. If users follow their rules, it is difficult although not impossible for anyone including a government to force the service to take posts down. Most such services, including Facebook, Twitter and Apple, simply ignore complaints if those posting meet their respective standards.
“We see,” Volkov says, “that neither Google, nor Apple, nor Facebook, nor Microsoft, nor Twitter fulfill the demands of Russian legislation.” Given that, the Russian authorities are going after those who post on these platforms with criminal charges. That tactic has had some success in reducing the number of opposition posts.
But Russians are learning how to get around the blockages the Russian authorities have imposed and are going only going to become more skilled in doing so given the work of the Internet Freedom Conference held earlier this month, with a repetition scheduled to take place in 2020.