Friday, March 12, 2021

‘Blocking Social Media Only Intensifies Popular Anger at the Authorities,’ Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 10 – The Kremlin’s efforts to block social media to protect itself are proving counterproductive, Russian observers say, with each step the Putin regime takes in that direction “intensifying the anger” at the powers that be, according to four internet experts surveyed by Rosbalt journalist Nikita Strogov.

            Today, the Russian government sought to slow traffic on Twitter in order to “defend Russian citizens from the influence of illegal content,” he says. Unfortunately for the regime, it failed to do so but did face problems with its own sites. It denied the connection, but few believed the regime (

            Sociologist Ella Paneyakh says that while it was relatively easy for the regime to go after Telegram channels in the past, it is far more difficult to do the same things with messenger services like Twitter because “they grow like mushrooms” and it is extremely easy for people to shift from one platform to another. 

            Moreover, social media involve far more people and those who use them have developed their social capital there. Robbing people of this capital is like robbing a bank, she says, and as a result, this latest move will “only intensify the dissatisfaction with the powers that be” among broad swaths of the population.

            Anastasiya Burakova, a lawyer and human rights activist, says that the regime’s effort to blame the West for problems with its sites convinces no one and that recent laws the regime has adopted show that it wants to be in a position to block anything it doesn’t like, a violation of the principles of law and of freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.

            “We all have heard Putin who discovered the Internet and found there what a typical user as a rule never sees: child pornography and calls for suicide.” But what the Kremlin leader has ordered isn’t going to work. He can’t reduce Russia to North Korea because Russians are too connected with the broader world and understand workarounds like VPNs.

            Karen Kazarin, director of the Moscow Institute for Research on the Internet, says that the latest moves by the government suggest that those involved are not terribly competent and haven’t learned much from their past mistakes. Instead, they are living in a “fantasy” world in which they imagine they can control everything.

            The Putin regime can shut down the Internet but only at enormous cost to the country and to itself as well because popular anger will swell at this attack on something that ordinary Russians now view as very much part of their daily life and thus their rights, the Internet specialist says.

            And Igor Bederov, an Internet developer in St. Petersburg, adds that fewer than one in 200 Russians use Twitter, so the impact of the latest move may not be too great. But if, as recent legislation suggests, the Kremlin plans to expand its control over the web, many more Russians will be furious.


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