UARU
Kremlin Unable to Control Social Networks – Russian Journalist
16 May, 2017
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After the Ukrianian government's sudden decision to ban Russian social media websites in Ukraine, many questions remain about how this ban will be enacted and implemented.

"The internet in Russia was absolutely free until 2012, because the Kremlin didn't believe that the internet could play a huge role in social protests or in organizing people," explained Russian journalist Irina Borogan.

This changed in 2012 after the Arab Spring and the 2011-2012 Moscow protests. The Kremlin implemented internet filtering and a so-called internet "black list" and since then, the country has had internet censorship.

According Borogan, the mechanism for implementing internet censorship is very simple: "A special censorship agency called 'RosKomnadzor' implemented a special black list of banned websites," she said.

"RosKomnadzor" then sent this "blacklist" to internet service providers, who blocked the websites: "If you want to go to a website that is blocked you can’t do this officially via your internet provider but you can do this easily using any proxy server or VPN, or even more simple mechanisms," Borogan explained.

Borogan maintained that this ban has been largely ineffective and dismissed the fears of Ukrainian officials that Russian social media networks could be used as a propaganda tools.

"Social networks are horizontal structures. Information on social networks is shared and posted uncontrollably, because there is no hierarchical structure," she explained. "The Kremlin has tried to suppress social networks from the top many times."

According to Borogan, social media revealing the presence of Russian soldiers in Eastern Ukraine in 2014 is the perfect example of the Kremlin's inability to control social networks:

"In 2014 when the war in Ukraine started and the Russian authorities strongly denied the military presence of the Russian army on the ground, the social network 'Vkontakte' became the first proof that the Kremlin lied," she said. "Russian soldiers started posting a lot of information about their units, their photographs, and even what they were doing there on the social network 'Vkontakte'. They even posted this information under their own names. This was the first real proof that the Russian army was on the ground. The social network helped."

Hromadske's Nataliya Gumenyuk interviewed well-known Russian investigative journalist and co-author of the the book, "The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia's Digital Dictatorship and the New Online Revolutionaries", Irina Borogan, to ask about how a similar ban was implemented in Russia.

Irina, with this news from Ukraine and your knowledge of what happened with the Russian internet, what does the audience need to know about Russia and how it works? Were these bans effective in Russia?

Irina Borogan: You know the internet in Russia was absolutely free until 2012, because the Kremlin didn’t believe that the internet could play a huge role in social protests or in organizing people. But in 2012, after the Arab Spring and especially after the Moscow protests in 2011-2012, the Kremlin implemented the internet filtering and so-called “black list” on the internet in Russia, and since then we have internet censorship in the country. The mechanism of this internet censorship is very simple: a special censorship agency called RosKomnadzor implemented a special black list of banned websites that include a lot of, more than a million websites, starting with information about suicide and child pronography and ending with information about extremism, which according to Russian law means all information independent from the Kremlin. Today, there are some independent and online media blocked on the territory of the Russian Federation. Implementation of this blocking is very simple. This censorship agency RosKomnadzor sent this "black list" to the internet service providers and they implemented the blockings, technically. So if you want to go to a website that is blocked you can’t do this officially via your internet provider but you can do this easily using any proxy server or VPN, or even more simple mechanisms.

In the end have they managed to really squeeze those freedoms? To what extent can the Russian government, having close contact with the heads of these digital companies, really influence them? Because that is the major concern of the Ukrainian government, that the Russian owners of these hugely popular companies can be connected to the Kremlin and that they can be used as a tool of propaganda.

Irina Borogan: I completely disagree that social networks could be a tool of propaganda or something because social networks are horizontal structures. Information on social networks is shared and posted uncontrollably, because there is no hierarchical structure as the Kremlin thinks. The Kremlin tried to suppress social networks from the top many times. And they tried to do this with the most popular social network “Vkontakte”. In 2013, the founder and CEO of “Vkontakte” Pavel Durov was expelled from the country and he was changed for the son of Boris Dobrodeev, who is the chief of Russian state television empire VGTRK. And after his son got full control, according to the Kremlin’s thought, of the social network Vkontakte, nothing happened. Let me give a simple example, in 2014 when the war in Ukraine started and the Russian authorities strongly denied the military presence of the Russian army on the ground, the social network Vkontakte became the first proof that the Kremlin lied because a lot of Russian soldiers started posting a lot of information about their units, their photographs, and even what they were doing there on the social network “Vkontakte”. They even posted this information under their own names. This was the first real proof that the Russian army was on the ground. The social network helped.

/Interview by Nataliya Gumenyuk

/Text by Eilish Hart