Russian Media Ban Poorly Explained but Partly Justified – Internews Ukraine
16 May, 2017

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed a National Security and Defense Council decree that will ban a number of Russian social media websites.

Hromadske spoke to Vitallii Moroz, Head of New Media at "Internews Ukraine," to get a better understanding of the government's decision to implement this type of internet ban in Ukraine.

Moroz claimed that this ban is a continuation of govenrment policies to block the activities of Russian companies in Ukraine. However, it not only limits the influence of Russian businesses but also limits Ukrainian citizens' access to Russian social networks.

"Russian social networks are key elements of informational war online," Moroz explained. "All Russian propaganda messages are disseminated through social media."

Moroz also said that the ban wasn't well explained but it is partly justified. The idea first arose in 2014 in response to Russian aggression, which has now continued for three years. However, the question remains as to whether or not the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian internet providers will be able to implement this decree.

Read more: Kremlin Unable to Control Social Networks – Russian Journalist

Vitallii Moroz, Head of New Media at "Internews Ukraine:

The President’s decree to ban Russian social networks and email services is a continuation of the government policy to block all activities of Russian companies in Ukraine. So first of all, it is a step against Russian businesses that make profit from Ukrainian citizens, but on the other hand, it’s the restriction of access for Ukrainian citizens to Russian social networks. The decision has sparked debates in Ukrainian society, but I remember our expert survey on internet freedom and we asked experts whether they agreed on some limitations on internet freedom in the time of conflict, and according to the survey, 43% of experts accepted the notion of limitations to internet freedom, while 35% were strongly against. So, it means that, in time of conflict, Ukrainian society considers some limitations to freedom.

VKontakte is the leading Russian social network, with about 10 million users in Ukraine. Odnoklassniki has about 7 or 8 million in Ukraine. What does this mean? It means that they have become successful as tools, but, on the other hand, in Ukraine, Facebook is a key platform for public debate. I consider that half the users on VKontakte use the social network just to listen to music, they don’t want to pay for it and it is free of charge, which is a violation in fact. So these restriction might lead to migration of some users to paid music services or Facebook.

For sure, the Russian social networks are key elements of the information war online. All the Russian propaganda messages or fakes are disseminated through social media, and we know that Russia employs factories of trolls, so they spread the information more intensively and they target Ukrainian users as well. The same happens on Facebook but the audience can identify these messages and the level of education of Facebook users is higher than those of VKontakte. They are users that only want to be entertained, so if you frame the messages with entertainment, they consume it much more easily and don’t ask critical questions.

The Ukrainian government should have explained the decree better but it is partly justified because Russian aggression has continued for three years, and the Ukrainian government considered this step back in 2014. The other issue is [whether or not] the Ukrainian government and internet providers can implement this decree, because Ukraine has a very competitive market for internet providers and it is almost impossible to block access to the internet in Ukraine. We should wait and see what the reaction will be from the IT community, and if will physically be implemented.