Cyber-utopians in Russia

a prominent researcher Evgeny Morozov calls people like me cyber-utopians. Well indeed I am a cyber-utopian and believe that all those modern technologies can change things for better. I want to believe that Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal and other networking sites will enhance the rule of law in various countries and promote structural changes in societies.

In his recent interview for CNN Morozov said that “the Egyptian government wasn’t particularly adept or skilled at not just suppressing the democratic potential of the internet but not even grasping it. The Egyptian authorities were barely fighting it. And that’s not the trend I see in places like Iran, China or Russia.”

He claims that Egyptian government was not implementing internet censorship: no one banned any web site. At the same time Russian and Chinese governments use more sophisticated techniques; they train and pay bloggers to spread information. They use it for “guiding online public opinion.”

“China, so far, and Russia, are two of the most sophisticated regimes, which have managed to neutralize or weaken the democratic potential of the internet.

Their approaches to controlling the web are also different. In the case of Russia, which claims to be far more democratic than China, you don’t see much internet filtering at all. They don’t ban access to websites. Instead they use far more sophisticated and less visible and harder-to-attribute tactics.”

I bet no one can prove the last statement. It sounds a bit conspiratorial. I also don’t believe that Russia is using these sophisticated techniques. Otherwise the image of the government and Putin’s party United Russia would not be that bad in the internet. Netzens mock the ruling party calling it the party of tricksters and thieves. To the contrary Russian government is very efficient in censoring TV stations. TV remains the main medium for older generation of Russians.

I believe that internet still remains a mystery for the government. Yes, indeed, the government does not ban any website, but they do ban certain bloggers. For example a Livejournal account of prominent investigative blogger Pilgrim67 was suspended long time ago, so he had to move to another platform. Moreover there are some paid bloggers in the Russian blogosphere, but they don’t exercise that much influence as the government wishes for. Anonymous users and bots attack top influential bloggers and leave countless identical comments. However bloggers solve all these issues easily. I assume that Russian government is not successful in imposing censorship and internet regulation. They still have no idea what to do with all this cyber activism.

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