Staunton, September 23 – According to a new Mediascope survey, 22 percent of Russians over the age of 12 have not gone online in the past 30 days, either because they have never learned how to use the Internet or because rising poverty has put the cost of connections beyond their reach.
More than 80 percent of these are over 55, who did not acquire Internet skills earlier or who can no longer afford to maintain a connection. But experts tell RBC that the share of elderly Russians going online is rising fast as more of them work and as the Internet features special programs for them (rbc.ru/technology_and_media/23/09/2020/5f69e8209a794751dd22b98d).
Mediascope experts say that the Internet prevented the Russian economy from collapsing during the pandemic – without it, many sectors would simply have stopped functioning altogether -- and that 30 percent of employees will continue to work at home via the Internet in the future (business-gazeta.ru/article/481790).
But if the Internet is playing a positive role in the Russian economy, it is having political consequences that the Kremlin doesn’t like. As a result, the ministry for digital development and mass communications has prepared amendments to the information technology law that will give the government far greater powers over it (regulation.gov.ru/projects#npa=108513).
Specifically, it bans the use of anonymizers on computers based in Russia and allows the authorities to move more quickly to shut down sites without the need for a court order. Not surprisingly, the proposal has sparked outrage among many who routinely surf the web (forklog.com/v-rf-hotyat-zapretit-skryvat-imena-sajtov-eksperty-nazvali-zakonoproekt-strannym/).
Critics say the government risks killing the goose that laid the golden egg. If its actions drive more Russians offline, that will reduce the ability of the authorities to organize distance learning during the pandemic and of businesses to continue to function safely. And they suggest there are longer term consequences as well.
If using the Internet comes to be viewed as overly political, many Russians will either become radicalized against the government or, if they follow the party line, they will fall further and further behind people in other countries where the use of the Internet is generally broadly encouraged.