Between Institutional Dungeons and the Dragons of Public Opinion: Russian Internet Regulation

//Gregory Asmolov, a PhD researcher at the LSE, argues that new data from Russia suggest revisiting policies for mitigation of radical Internet regulation, based on his recent paper that explores why Russian public opinion is generally in favour of regulation. This article was originally published on the London School of Economics Media Policy Project blog and can be viewed here

The Russian Internet, also known as Runet, has played an important political role since the turn of the century. According to mapping of the Russian blogosphere that was conducted by the Berkman Center in 2010, while traditional media, particularly TV, have been controlled by the government, Runet allowed an alternative political agenda to emerge and much more criticism of Russian authorities. The political importance of Runet may have reached its peak around the time of the parliamentary and presidential elections in winter 2011-2012, when online technologies were actively used by citizens in order to expose fraud and organize protests.

Since then, however…

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An Interview on Russian Internet Control with Olga Kamenchuk

//In this interview, Director on International and Public Affairs, VCIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center) and former Annenberg Public Policy Center visiting scholar Olga Kamenchuk discusses the results of a survey on Russia attitudes toward the internet.

What’s the most exciting thing about working in the field of public opinion?

As a historian and a political scientist I admire the field of public opinion for its ability to understand the logic of the country’s development that it gives a researcher. “A nation is worth its leaders” – goes an old saying. What is there in the country’s population at a certain point in its history that it has the leader it has? Why did Germans elect Adolf Hitler in 1930s? What helped Americans overcome the Great Depression? What can make people protest against their governments? Why would they support their leader regardless of what the rest of the world thinks about him?

Opinion research helps to draw the portrait of the nation and to build a forecast for its future development.


What can survey results tell us about the interplay between media consumption and freedom of expression?

Mass media (as well as the Orthodox Church and the army) is the most…

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Demand for Internet Freedom? An Interview with Erik Nisbet

Dr. Erik Nisbet, associate professor of communication, political science, and environmental policy at Ohio State University, responds to questions drawn from the recently released report “Benchmarking Public Demand: Russia’s Appetite for Internet Control,” which seeks to assess the public’s demand for internet freedom in Russia. 

What was the most surprising part of the dataset?

The findings from the survey analysis that surprised me the most were Russian attitudes about the use of the Internet by foreign countries and the censorship of foreign media. There is a robust sentiment among Russians (roughly half of non- and light users of the Internet and about one-third of heavy Internet users) that foreign countries are actively using the Internet against Russia and that foreign news media websites should be censored by the Russian government.  These attitudes are reflective of the political messaging by the Russian government, but I was surprised that they had found such wide-spread acceptance among the population.  Building support among the public to censor foreign mass media and websites is an important part of a much larger information control strategy by the Russian government, as is also the recent legislation limiting foreign ownership of mass media in Russia, to isolate the Russian public from outside information that may be inconsistent with the government’s dominance of news and information dissemination within Russia.


How do Russian attitudes towards internet governance differ from some other places where you’ve done work?

Unfortunately, the demand for democratic governance in Russia is very…


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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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