Thursday 8 March 2012

The Russian Internet: "Open and free"

I've just been reading this encouraging report about the state of the Russian Internet.

It suggests that "bottom-up" agenda setting and collective online civic action are all possible in Russian cyberspace. Government control and influence also remains limited.

The report is based on three years of research by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

I've picked out a few key points:

Openness and civic action

"Overall, we find that the Russian Internet remains generally open and free despite the various ongoing efforts to shape cyberspace into an environment that is friendlier towards the government."

"The watchdog function of the Russian Internet appears especially strong. There are a large and growing number of examples of Russians identifying problems of common concern and coming together online to push back against abuses of the state or powerful corporate interests."

"The evidence is compelling that Russians are producing and sharing information online that is collectively determined to be of public importance, and in doing so, circumventing the tighter restrictions on traditional media. The ability of Russians to organize and act on that information appears to be equally, if not more important, than the simple access to information and collective filtration of topics and identification of salient agendas."

Pro-government bloggers

"Critically, we do not find evidence that efforts by the government to push its message online through supporters, paid or otherwise, are very successful. The mere presence of pro-Kremlin bloggers does not necessarily translate into influence as the broader online community is not compelled to link to such blogs or to adopt pro-government messages."

"Pro-government blogs are rarely found on our map of prominent blogs as measured by in-links from other bloggers."

Pro-government Twitter users

"However, we do find that pro-government users are more successfully entrenched in Twitter. Specifically, pro-Putin youth groups like the Young Guards and Nashi, and elected officials allied with them, have a distinct Twitter footprint. Still, we find many of the same oppositional groups as we do in the blogosphere on Twitter (with the exception of the nationalists) so more pro-government users have not crowded out oppositional communities."

"We also found evidence that one cluster of Twitter users—those centered on the Medvedev policy of modernization—is popular primarily because it is promoted by bots and instrumental Twitter users."

Methods of control

"There are two methods for controlling online speech that appear to have a greater impact than pro-government information campaigns and are likely to be perpetuated by the government or their sympathizers to limit speech on the Internet."
  • "The first is offline attacks and threats against journalists and others critical of the federal and local officials and powerful business interests..."
  • "The second persistent threat to online speech in Russia is DDoS attacks. The disabling of nearly twenty independent news and election monitoring sites on Election Day is the most extreme and most wide-reaching example of coordinated DDoS attacks in Russia to date."


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