Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Two Signal Developments Online: Russians Increasingly Using VPNs and Ukrainians the Ukrainian Language

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 13 – Two developments in the ways Russians and Ukrainians are using the Internet say a lot about their respective societies and the way in which the two nations are making use of the Internet in response: Despite Moscow’s opposition, Russian are increasingly using VPNs, and with Kyiv’s support, Ukrainians are increasingly posting in Ukrainian.

            Faced with increasing government restrictions on the Internet, Russians are increasingly using virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around that. Twenty percent of Russian Internet users are now using these tools, a figure low by international standards but far higher than in the past (vedomosti.ru/technology/articles/2024/01/12/1014715-samim-skachivaemim-v-rossii-v-2023-godu-stalo-prilozhenie-wildberries).

            Alarmed, the Russian government has placed restrictions on VPN services and plans to extend them on March 1, but it is unclear how effective these moves will be (moscowtimes.ru/2023/10/03/v-sovfede-anonsirovali-blokirovku-vseh-vpn-servisov-v-rossii-a108777).

            Meanwhile, in Ukraine, scholars from Britain and Germany have shown that since the launch of Putin’s expanded invasion in February 2022, Ukrainians increasingly have shifted from using Russian to using Ukrainian in online forums (Daniel Racek et al, “The Russian war in Ukraine increased Ukrainian language use on social media,” Communications Psychology 2:1 (2024) at nature.com/articles/s44271-023-00045-6).

            That is certainly no surprise given that Kyiv has encouraged this development and Ukrainians want to use their national language more to set them apart from the aggressor.

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