The unique visitor counters on the Russian blogosphere are now in a Siberian winter freeze after a new law forces bloggers with 3000 or more visitors to reveal identity and obey restrictions!
For scores of Russian bloggers and readers, the 1st of August was a day that the blogosphere will not forget soon. In a move that reminds many of some darker days of Russian history, the new law dubbed as “the bloggers law”, came into effect forcing blogs with 3000 or more daily readers to comply to a set of rules. They have to register with the state watchdog Roskomnadzor, disclose their real identity and follow the same rules as journalists working in conventional state-registered mass media.
The restrictions include the demand to verify information before publishing it and abstain from releasing reports containing slander, hate speech, extremist calls or other banned information such as, for example, advice on suicide. Also, the law bans popular bloggers from using obscene language. These new restrictions will be applied regardless of the physical location of the web authors - everyone writing in Russian and targeting Russian audience must comply with the rules or the access to their content would be blocked on the Russian territory.
Who is affected?
Russian bloggers and readers can bypass those blocks with tools for internet security and privacy like some of them have been doing that for a while now. The fact that your local government wants to block you, does not really mean that they can. And now it’s the Russian authorities that will need to deal with the wave of disobedience that the new law is raising.
Russian internet companies have already protested against the additional responsibilities and limitations. They have even taken some measures to bypass the new law. For example Yandex - Russias #1 search engine - stopped publishing the statistics on blogs. The major blogging platform LiveJournal has altered the presentation of readers’ statistics making the top figure 2500+. But Roskomnadzor is already working its way to apply the new order. On the 1st of August - the date the new law was announced - they prepared a list of six people who fall under the definition of a "popular blogger". On this list are comedian and actor Mikhail Galustyan, photographer Sergey Dolya, journalist Dmitry Chernyshev, writer and leftist politician Eduard Limonov and writer Boris Akunin, who also uses his blog for spreading liberal opposition views. And when governments are preparing lists, well, we know how it usually ends.
Fear and Loathing in the Kremlin
It seems that the workload expected for Roskomnadzor is not so big. Independent web counter LiveInternet estimates the number of independent Russian bloggers with audience exceeding 3,000 unique daily visitors at about 500. As far as social networks are concerned, LiveInternet estimates that number at about 1,500 Russian-speaking Facebook users that have an audience of 3,000 readers or more.
For many this is the real deal behind the new law – the ability to legitimate censorship not only of opposition, but also of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The BBC reports that Anton Nossik, who is considered Russia's "internet guru", wrote in his LiveJournal blog that the new law didn't threaten individual bloggers directly, but provided legal grounds to block popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal and Google. "The issue of banning all these platforms in Russia is a political one and it will be decided by only one person", Mr Nossik wrote, with a thinly veiled reference to President Vladimir Putin.
This law is a part of a larger process in which the Russian authorities are breaking down on internet freedom of speech and privacy. Earlier in the year, Russia enacted a law that gave the government powers to block websites without explanation. Just recently, Vladimir Putin has expressed his sentiments on the internet calling it an ongoing CIA project. And Under yet another of several new laws passed by Russia's Duma this month, Western tech companies hoping to do business in Russia must host their servers on Russian soil starting in 2016 - or go dark.
It looks like the stage is set, not only for bloggers. Tech heavyweights Apple and SAP are being taken to task in Russia, with officials from the government demanding the two hand over their source code to allay fears they can be exploited for surveillance purposes. Russian communications minister Nikolai Nikiforov insisted a thorough check is necessary to determine just how private the data of users is, in particular those in the government and figureheads of Russian industry. It seems that the Russian government is playing both sides at the same time: On one hand, it is like many others a victim of the Snowden revelations, on the other hand, it is abusing free expression itself. We have a simple solution for both cases...
What do you think of the developments in Russia?