The Russian Social Media Ban in Ukraine, Explained
16 May, 2017

The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has signed a National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine decree from April 28, 2017, which will block access to Russian social media sites "VKontakte" and "Odnoklassniki". All "Yandex" services have also been banned, as well as the business management software, 1C.

Hromadske's Nataliya Gumenyuk spoke to Svitlana Matviyenko, a media and information war researcher about what the Ukrainian government wants to achieve with the ban, what it means for democracy and what are the positive sides of this decision on May 16, 2017.

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

What could this decision mean? What is your assessment? What impact could it have on the Ukrainian society where these sites have millions of followers?

I think it’s really important to talk about this situation and these decisions. When I first learned about this, my first reaction was that this is fake news. It was very strange to say the least., and you are hearing this from someone who is really critical of social media and I don’t belong the [the group of] people who consider social media initiates free speech. I actually think that social media is a means of control and manipulation of big audience, especially today when many governments actually realise that they can do this. And yet, I think that any act of censorship is really heavy, non-democratic and also embodies certain reactionary politics and the inability of the government to achieve certain effects by other means.

How effective will this be? What are they trying to stop and are they even able to do this?

I think they won’t be very effective for several reasons.I see this decision as more tactical than strategic, although I am sure that the Ukrainian government considered the strategic decision, certain contributions in the future etc. However, I think it’s more practical because it just affects the current situation, and this tactic is more symbolic than practical, it means that they can share themselves on social media the fact that they are actually doing something, but, in fact, there are so many means to avoid this control and this block, and all those means are pretty familiar to people, especially on the territories of Belarus, Ukraine etc. That’s why I think there will be so many ways to avoid the block. Many specialists, IT specialists and those involved with internet service providers in Ukraine, they have already expressed their opinion that they would be curious to see how all this will be implemented in practice, because in fact it is very difficult to control, and, as I mentioned, there are also many possibilities to avoid [this], for the users to break through those walls. That’s why the people in the government can boast about this on their own social media and demonstrate how ‘effective’ they are, however they are really not practical.

However, I see one positive thing here - this situation will also push many users to think more about alternative media and not deposit everything they have to just one platform for example, but actually think about security, cryptology, about all possible means where they can avoid government control. That’s why I feel like this is an interesting push, that I hope Ukrainian users will really explore.