Net Effect

Russia may soon create a “Bloggers’ Chamber”

Both Russia and China are celebrating their newly created "Netizen days" this month (China’s was on September 14th; Russia’s is today, September 30th). Both holidays signify attempts by the state to co-opt bloggers and Internet users into government’s own cyber-operations. Chinese Internet users didn’t really warm to the artificial holiday; I doubt that it will ...

Both Russia and China are celebrating their newly created "Netizen days" this month (China’s was on September 14th; Russia’s is today, September 30th). Both holidays signify attempts by the state to co-opt bloggers and Internet users into government’s own cyber-operations. Chinese Internet users didn’t really warm to the artificial holiday; I doubt that it will fare any better with the Russian users (even though in Russia the holiday is officially presented as the day to celebrate "RuNet" rather than its users).

The occasion, however, presented top Russian policy-makers with an opportunity to state their views on the role of the Internet in the country and how the state is planning to go about regulating that role (make no mistake: the Russian government is not going to let "a trillion connections bloom", to borrow a phrase from Thomas Barnett).

Thus, Sergey Mironov, who heads "A Just Russia" – one of those Kremlin-affiliated parties – and presides over the Russian Federation Council – the upper chamber of the Russian parliament – has just delivered one of the most cogent and frank interpretations of how the Kremlin views the Internet. Here are a few of his illuminating quotes – with my snarky comments:

That RuNet has become the extension of TV/mass-culture is only part of the problem. Even worse..RuNet doesn’t perform the civic and social functions that it does in other countries (EM: I wonder what kind of "functions" in "other countries" he has in mind – I am not sure that the Internet subcultures in America or Western Europe are any less a slave to infotainment and pornography – or did he mean China?)

It was expected that the Internet would help crystallize and mobilize parts of the civil society that are interested in a broad sweep of constructive reforms. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened yet. Sites of NGOs – including those of human rights organizations that defend the interests of the population – recieve less than 1% of the Russian Internet traffic (EM: Mironov’s language makes it obvious that Kremlin is increasingly eager to use the rhetoric of its Western critics: civil society? NGOs? human rights? I think it signifies that a decade-long experiment to create fake Russian society – fronted by the quasi-state entities like the Public Chamber – has succeeded. It would be curious to see Kremlin encourage more interest to the web-sites of human rights organizations – how about an aggressive SEO campaign?)

Now comes the real gem, where Mironov proposes to create a "Bloggers’ Chamber" – something akin to Russia’s Public Chamber, Kremlin’s attempt to tame and co-opt Russian intelligentsia – but this time geared for taming and co-opting RuNet:

"Instead [of becoming a base for the civil society], RuNet has become home to various antisocial and criminal elements. Porn sites, sites of drug addicts, sadists, pedophiles, sites of totalitarian sects, sites of extremist, racists, and nationalist organizations. And now, after casinos and betting houses have been expelled from our cities, numerous betting sites have sprung up. All these people must feel the hand of the government Internet censorship. These censorship efforts should be very selective, very responsible, and very careful. And they should follow the deliberations of the national consultative body that would be comprised of the leading Internet personalities and bloggers. This new consultative body should develop a set of rules guiding "tolerant online behavior" that would help to extirpate all virtual confrontation. It shouldn’t contain any hints at political censorship but aim to help RuNet understand and imbibe the basic social functions of the state and the civil society" EM: in short, what Mironov is proposing is to create another fake civil society entity – the Bloggers Chamber – that will then decide how to limit the activities of the real virtual civil society, all with the purpose of teaching it "basic social functions of civil society"

I also bet that Kremlin will be very picky about who it would invite for this new "consultative organ"; it’s telling that on the same very day that Mironov delivered his speech, one of his junior party colleagues proposed to impose a travel ban on Artemy Lebedev, the country’s most popular blogger, for he damages Russia’s image abroad (Lebedev likes to curse on his blog, actively promotes his atheists views, and regularly posts photos of nude women). It’s quite interesting that last year Mironov announced that he was categorically against any Internet censorship; instead, he said Internet users and providers must join efforts in order to cleanse RuNet of information that might contradict the Russian law.

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