The Russian Parliament has proposed legislation that would amend federal law to create an internet blacklist, requiring internet providers to ban access to each website appearing on a federally sanctioned list. Though intended to target child pornography and websites that promote drug use and teen suicide, some commentators have voiced caution that Bill № 89417-6 could be used to stymie collective action against the state.
Online media sources have become firmly established as a mobilization tool. The latest Russian protests against the ruling party, United Russia, and the Putin administration are no exception. Beginning with the legislative elections on December 4, 2011, Russians have mobilized in numbers unmatched since the 1990s. The successful turnout at these events is due in part to the usage of unregulated websites. Users of online media have thus far been free to voice dissatisfaction with the Russian state, election procedures, and barriers to political party formation, as well as organize meetings and disseminate information on upcoming events.
While such a statement may come across as trite, consider that 70% of Russians get their news from television. Nine of the top ten most popular stations are either state-owned or owned by Gazprom-Media, a subsidary of Gazprom, Russia’s largest oil and gas company and majority state-owned. Though these channels are not entirely devoid of civic debate, their independence from state interests is suspect at the very least. In such a setting, unregulated online media offer an extraordinary discoursive outlet.
In observation of the proposed legislation, Wikipedia in Russia has gone temporarily offline, recreating their response to the SOPA and PIPA bills in the US. Wikipedia has likened Russia’s Bill № 89417-6 to “the Great Firewall of China.” Given past history of the Kremlin paying allied youth group, Nashi, for positive online support and China’s censorship against collective action rather than criticism, it stands entirely within reason that the legislation could be used against oppositional activists.
UPDATE: The bill has been passed by the Russian Parliament and awaits President Putin’s signature.