Russia tightens its control over the Internet and social networks

Besides its military offensive in Ukraine, Russia continues its digital battle. Since February 24, Moscow has doubled down on initiatives aimed at controlling the flow of information accessible to Internet users. On March 4, the Russian “internet policeman”, Roskomnadzor, banned access to Facebook and restricted access to Twitter. On the same day, the Russian parliament adopted a new law providing for the punishment of broadcasters up to fifteen years in prison. ” wrong information “ on the Russian army.

→ Read. The War in Ukraine: Moscow’s New Turn Against Freedom of Information

A week later, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office requested that Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, be listed among the organizations. “Extremists”Paving the way for all of its activities to be banned in Russia. This request was in response to Meta’s decision to make Show leniency for forms of political expression that normally violate our rules on violent rhetoric such as ‘Death to the Russian invaders’, As explained by the group.

Finally, on April 21, a Russian court fined Google 11 million rubles (more than 126,000 euros) for failing to remove content “banned” On the attack in Ukraine. According to Russian news agencies, the American giant was especially criticized for publishing on YouTube a video of an alleged phone conversation between Russian soldiers and their relatives in which these soldiers complained of heavy casualties in their ranks.

“An attempt by the Russian government to control the data”

In order not to see the background layoffs or the leakage of certain information on the Internet, the Russian government subsequently intensified its pressure on Western social networks. For Marie-Gabriel Bertrand, a PhD student in geopolitics at Paris-8 and a researcher at the Geode Center, this blockage is “An attempt by the Russian government to seize control of the data and block all rhetoric claiming that the Russian military is the attacker in this conflict.”.

However, workaround mechanisms do exist. Thus, Leo, a French expat in Russia, explains that his Russian friends All are preserved, without exception. access to western social networks, And every young Russian continues to be active on Instagram, but also on TikTok or Snapchat.”. according to him, Networks like Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp can be accessed without any restrictions with a VPN (A program that allows you to establish your connection in another country to circumvent the ban) eIt is still just as popular with Russians: cafes, restaurants and cultural institutions continue to use it as usual, ” He explains.

→ analysis. Ukraine crisis: the battle for information rages

However, the use of this software constitutes a “risk” For users because for several years they have been in the crosshairs of Russian law. “This is neither legal nor illegal” to use it, but the Russian state may consider it “VPNs will be used to circumvent the blocking operations. In the context of the investigation, this could be considered a negative point.explains Marie Gabriel Bertrand.

For Julien Nocetti, a teacher and researcher at the Military Academy in Saint-Cyr who specializes in cyberspace management, this blocking policy “It will be put into a long-term policy to shut down the Russian digital sphere.” according to him, “There is a gap between Russia’s sovereign projects and circumvention practices, which use services like VPN or Tor (a way to connect relatively anonymously, NDR) ». At the end of 2021, the FSB, the Russian security service, adopted a list of 60 banned topics on social networks, as state secrets, or military secrets such as troop morale, artificial intelligence, etc.

Social networks, are still very popular in Russia

Despite the ban on western social networks in the country, Instagram is widely used in Russia, by just over 70 million people, especially among the middle classes. Notes Julian Nosetti. So the restrictions may have a financial impact on some users. “A lot of small and medium-sized businesses have used Instagram to promote their products abroad, Marie Gabriel Bertrand says: For those Russians and influencers, he blocked him for InstagramIt really constitutes a loss of income. »

According to a study by the Russian NGO Levada, published on Friday, April 8, the most popular social networks in Russia are VKontakte – a kind of Russian Facebook – YouTube and Odnoklassniki (a social network that allows you to find old classmates). “Instagram and Facebook, which are banned in Russia, are used by 23% and 6% of respondents, respectively”Levada says.

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