Bloggers are just the latest victims of Russia’s efforts to control the internet

Alexei Navalny knows blogging in Russia can be dangerous.
Alexei Navalny knows blogging in Russia can be dangerous.
Image: Reuters/Tatyana Makeyeva
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Influential Russian bloggers have long been subject to Vladimir Putin’s distaste for online dissent. Popular writer and activist Alexei Navalny—one of the intellectual leaders of the 2011 protests that challenged Putin’s legitimacy—had his blog blocked earlier this year. But a law that came into force today applies even to writers of moderate influence. Any blog with more than 3,000 daily unique visitors will have to register with Roskomnadzor, Russia’s official media regulator, as a media organization and be held to the same standards.

Those standards include bans on posting anonymously or pseudonymously, using swear words, spreading “false information”, revealing state or commercial secrets, publishing porn, and disseminating “extremist” views—the definition of which is, of course, at the whim of Russian authorities. The 3,000-reader threshold appears to be somewhat arbitrary; some blogging platforms are now artificially stopping their visitor counts at 2,500 to protect their users from the new law, though it’s not clear that this will protect anybody.

This is merely one in a raft of measures the Russian state has taken in the past few months to clamp down on internet dissent. Russian site Hopes and Fears (link in Russian) recently summed up some of the others:

* In July, an already tough anti-piracy law was beefed up further. While fighting content piracy is something lots of democratic governments do too, Russia’s law gives copyright holders and the authorities sweeping powers that could be easily abused.

* Also in July, a law against bad language in media came into force. Curiously, foreign films shown at Russian film festivals are exempt.

Advertising on pay TV will be banned from Sept. 1, 2015. Though presented as a way to level the playing field between free and pay TV channels, the ban could, notes Hopes and Fears, be used to squeeze out foreign competitors to Russian TV, and to squash small independent news channels like Dozhd (Rain) TV, which has been struggling to stay afloat since government pressure prompted most Russian providers to drop it.

* From Sept. 1, 2016, personal data on Russian citizens must be stored on servers in RussiaSome suspect this law will oblige foreign social networks like Facebook and Twitter to abandon the country or else let the government snoop on their servers. A lot of Russian internet businesses would apparently be quite happy.

The past few months have also seen tighter customs quotas on imported goods bought online; powers enabling the tax police to snoop on anybody’s bank account without restrictions; plans for a national payments system that might displace foreign credit-card companies; and—most bizarrely of all—a ban on women’s underwear that isn’t sufficiently breathable. Often, the line between measures designed to protect Russian business and those aimed at stifling political dissent is blurry. And that’s just the way the authorities like it.