The ‘Balkanisation’ of Russia’s Internet

//Alexandra Kulikova analyzes the current situation of Russian internet regulation. This post was originally posted on openDemocracy Russia on May 19, 2014 and can be found here.

Most reactions from the expert community to recent government initiatives affecting Russian internet regulation bring to mind an old joke about the difference between an optimist and a pessimist: while a pessimist moans and groans that, ‘It can’t possibly get any worse!’ an optimist happily reassures him ‘Oh yes, of course it can!’

For the last few years, the Russian government has been developing an arsenal of regulatory tools devised for Russia’s online space. Starting with a series of laws aimed at child protection and combating piracy, it has recently moved on to blocking online access to alleged extremist content. This has been broadly seen by commentators as another attempt to impose control over an online space, which had developed fairly organically for two decades (on 7 April 2014, the RuNet celebrated its 20th birthday).

These regulatory moves have been recently followed up with a law requiring popular bloggers to register as media outlets; and a set of anti-terrorist laws – introduced into the Parliament as a response to the Volgograd terrorist attack in December 2013 – requiring online platform operators to retain user communications data for up to six months. A bill requiring almost the same of telecoms is also being considered.

Tightening the digital screws

From 1 August 2014, bloggers whose websites have over 3000 followers/visitors per day (the methodology of calculation is not clearly specified) will have to register as mass media outlets. In effect, this imposes…

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What Balkanizes the Internet: Access Denied or Access Unwanted?

Harsh Taneja & Angela Xiao Wu discuss their upcoming research project on access blockage and balkanization of the Internet.

Two months after attending a celebration to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced: “A new information curtain is descending across much of the world.”

Clinton’s quote reflects a larger trend in the US policy discourse on the Internet. This dominant discourse equates access blockage with a digital version of the Iron Curtain that curbs the “free flow of information” and creates a vital “partition” on the “global” Internet. Such claims assume that Internet users would use all websites if given access. However, a large body of research on media use shows that people are interested in what unfolds nearby and is in their preferred language. If the latter holds true, one needs to empirically investigate the extent to which access blockage confines Internet users within isolated communities.

CGCS has created the Internet Policy Observatory (IPO) to research the dynamic technological and political contexts in which Internet developments and censorship take place. The IPO will serve as a platform for informing relevant communities of activists, academics, and policy makers, displaying collected data and analysis about ongoing events, such as key decisions and proposals, legal or informal, on Internet policy. Through the IPO, we will be embarking on our project, “What Balkanizes the Internet: Access Denied or Access Unwanted.”  It examines…

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