What was once a freewheeling Internet is now struggling for survival in Russia. As President Vladimir Putin slowly tightens his stranglehold on democracy, his latest act was has been the quiet signing into power of a new law requiring popular online voices to register with the government, as of Tuesday May 6, 2014; a measure empowering the government with a broad ability to track who said what about whom online. Coming just two weeks after a long speech attacking the Internet as “a special C.I.A. project,” the little dictator has borrowed pages from the restrictive Internet playbooks of governments like those in China, Pakistan, Venezuela, Turkey, Iran and North Korea.
Putin is particularly envious of the methodologies used by China, who are wise to the ways of using sophisticated technology to filter the Internet while quietly tightening censorship. It has banned all major Western online social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google, though it seems not to be bothered by Alibaba, its already somewhat spayed homegrown e-commerce site, although their own social media champion Weibo – a booming enterprise model with over US$3.6bn in stock offerings just this year – has come under mounting censorship pressure as the government ratchets up its policing of self-expression.
Under the pressure of a corruption scandal, Turkey recently imposed bans on Twitter and YouTube over corruption allegations leveled at Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. YouTube remains banned for good, although a much-chastened Twitter service was restored in April. Much more blatant is the government of Venezuela, where the government there is blocking online images from users. In recent years, Pakistan has banned 20,000 to 40,000 websites, including YouTube, insisting they offend Islam. Facebook is currently accessible in Pakistan, but is often blocked.
The Russian “bloggers law,” specifies that any site with over 3,000 visitors daily is considered a ‘media outlet,’ similar to a newspaper and is considered legally responsible for the accuracy of what they publish. Beyond registration, bloggers can no longer remain anonymous online. Any organization that provides platforms for search engines, social networks and other forums must maintain computer records of everything it publishes, according to the Washington Post.
Mr. Putin, riding a wave of popular support after hosting the Winter Olympics and annexing Crimea, has now turned his attention to regulating the Internet by presenting himself as a worldwide champion of conservative values. Indeed, along with the Internet law, Putin also signed a new profanity law that levies heavy fines for using four common vulgarities in the arts, including literature, movies, plays and television.
The ban on the four vulgar words has been met with dismay by Russian artists (the words are crude terms for male and female genitalia, sex and a prostitute). Indeed, many people thought it would be widely ignored. As one unnamed famous artist told the New York Times, “We feel like we are back in kindergarten again when they said, ‘Don’t pee in your bed and don’t eat with your hands and don’t use that word.”