Russian Wikipedians fight for right to read about ‘smoking cannabis’

The Russian version of Wikipedia has found itself on the bad side of the country’s increasingly powerful Internet censors thanks to an article on "smoking cannabis" among several others. Global Voices’ Kevin Rothrock explains: The Free Encyclopedia”’s troubles multipled when Vladimir Pikov, spokesman for Roskomnadzor (the agency charged with managing the blacklist), went on national ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

The Russian version of Wikipedia has found itself on the bad side of the country's increasingly powerful Internet censors thanks to an article on "smoking cannabis" among several others. Global Voices' Kevin Rothrock explains:

The Free Encyclopedia”’s troubles multipled when Vladimir Pikov, spokesman for Roskomnadzor (the agency charged with managing the blacklist), went on national radio [ru] and revealed that 15 different Wikipedia articles are now among the URLs banned in Russia. “[Wikipedia] has been on the list for a long time,” Pikov later told [ru] Interfax.ru, adding, “Why people are suddenly realizing this now, I don’t know.”

Articles on other drugs, as well as suicide methods, are also banned. While Russian Wikipedians have debated the quality of these pages, they have so far refused to remove the pages or edit them to fall in line with censors' demands. 

The Russian version of Wikipedia has found itself on the bad side of the country’s increasingly powerful Internet censors thanks to an article on "smoking cannabis" among several others. Global Voices’ Kevin Rothrock explains:

The Free Encyclopedia”’s troubles multipled when Vladimir Pikov, spokesman for Roskomnadzor (the agency charged with managing the blacklist), went on national radio [ru] and revealed that 15 different Wikipedia articles are now among the URLs banned in Russia. “[Wikipedia] has been on the list for a long time,” Pikov later told [ru] Interfax.ru, adding, “Why people are suddenly realizing this now, I don’t know.”

Articles on other drugs, as well as suicide methods, are also banned. While Russian Wikipedians have debated the quality of these pages, they have so far refused to remove the pages or edit them to fall in line with censors’ demands. 

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan recently wrote in FP that Russia’s new internet blacklist could be a prelude to other measures, such as bringing "global web platforms such as Gmail, Facebook, or Twitter under Russian jurisdiction — either requiring them to be accessible in Russia in the domain extensions under government control (.ru, .su, etc.) or obliging them to be hosted on Russian territory."

There are also fears that less sophisticated internet service providers might choose to block entire sites rather than go through the trouble of censoring the particular pages the government’s demands. In a response to a Russian user earlier this week, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ response to this scenario was essentially, bring it on:

For me, being blocked is always preferable to collaborating with censors. It’s important to understand that the fear of site-wide blocking is based in concerns that some (smaller, presumably) ISPs may lack sufficient technical resources to block individual pages, forcing them to block the entire site to comply with the law. Believe me, if those ISPs block the entire site, while other ISPs only block specific pages, the ones which block all of Wikipedia will lose customers very very quickly. We are not weak, we are very powerful. Catering to the demands of weak and cowardly politicians – the kind who fear the spread of knowledge – is not the Wikipedia way.–Jimbo Wales (talk) 21:18, 8 April 2013 (UTC) 

It’s good to hear that Wikipedia seems willing to go to the mat for its content, even content of questionable quality. Though for now, Russians interested in cannabis smoking methods will be forced to obtain that information elswhere. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: Russia

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