Friday, October 22, 2021

Russia Clamps Down on Internet Freedom, and the West Says Nothing

Excellent long story in the NY Times about Russia's crackdown on the internet:

Russia’s boldest moves to censor the internet began in the most mundane of ways — with a series of bureaucratic emails and forms.

The messages, sent by Russia’s powerful internet regulator, demanded technical details — like traffic numbers, equipment specifications and connection speeds — from companies that provide internet and telecommunications services across the country. Then the black boxes arrived.

The telecom companies had no choice but to step aside as government-approved technicians installed the equipment alongside their own computer systems and servers. Sometimes caged behind lock and key, the new gear linked back to a command center in Moscow, giving authorities startling new powers to block, filter and slow down websites that they did not want the Russian public to see.

The process, underway since 2019, represents the start of perhaps the world’s most ambitious digital censorship effort outside of China

Among other things the Russian state has pressured Facebook and YouTube into taking down "illegal" posts and they have threatened to ban those sites altogether. Twitter has not complied with a series of similar requests, so they have radically slowed down the site's traffic, and now everything takes ten times as long to load.

Worried about the power of tech companies and the trouble that can be made online –organizing the January 6 uprising in the US, for example – western countries are saying little:

Russia’s censorship efforts have faced little resistance. In the United States and Europe, once full-throated champions of an open internet, leaders have been largely silent amid deepening distrust of Silicon Valley and attempts to regulate the worst internet abuses themselves. Russian authorities have pointed to the West’s tech industry regulation to justify its own crackdown.

I wonder if in twenty years we will all look back at the free internet era with some combination of nostalgia and relief that it is over.


Shadow said...

I've often wonder if congress's demanding that social media police itself and remove certain types of posts (often fake news) isn't a violation of the first amendment by proxy? Congress pesters social media to do what it dares not do itself because the courts would scream foul.

pootrsox said...

I believe we would lose far more than we would gain were the sort of strictures imposed by authoritarian governments become the status quo here.

We may look back at the two decades 2000-2020 as the golden age of the internet.

G. Verloren said...

I wonder if in twenty years we will all look back at the free internet era with some combination of nostalgia and relief that it is over.

Did people living under the Hays Code look back at the free film and television era with relief that it was over? I think not.

David said...

Free speech absolutists should probably consider this:

Shadow said...

The post is troubling, but what's changed is the technology and not the speech. Problem is you can't separate the two. I said sometime back on this site that I thought restrictions would be placed on the 1st amendment before they were placed on the 2nd, and I think I see the beginnings of that now. Free speech without restraints cannot survive the constant lying and, what's worse, the vitriol, because the technology allows people to spread the lies and vitriol to millions at the speed of light.

But using implied threats to force social media companies into implementing individual versions of gatekeeper rules is not the answer. I'm not sure there any way to stop this, but we can certainly make it more difficult to do. But congress needs to do that.

Also, some of this vitriol borders on assault. Maybe it's time to start arresting anyone who shouts into another person's face with the intention of intimidating or threatening.

G. Verloren said...


1) Free speech only applies to the government - it has no bearing whatsoever on a private company like Facebook.

2) Free speech does not protect (and has never protected) violent speech / hate speech.

I personally agree that Facebook and other companies need to curb violent and hateful speech, but that has nothing to do with "free speech".

I also think that the government should take steps to help and/or require companies like Facebook to curb such speech, because such speech is NOT free and is dangerous.

None of that should in any way concern our theoretical "free speech absolutists", assuming they actually have a correct fundamental understanding of what free speech actually is.