Russia is tightening its grip on the Internet and social media

In parallel with its military offensive in Ukraine, Russia continues its digital battle. Since February 24, Moscow has stepped up its efforts to control the flow of information accessible to Internet users. On March 4, Russia’s “Internet police” Roskomnadzor blocked access to Facebook and restricted access to Twitter. On the same day, the Russian Parliament passed a new law providing for punishments of up to fifteen years in prison for those who broadcast “false information” about the Russian army.

→ READ. War in Ukraine: Moscow’s new turn against freedom of information

A week later, the Russian prosecutor’s office asked to classify Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, among the organizations. “extremists”, paving the way for a ban on all activities in Russia. This request was in response to Meta’s decision “show clemency with the forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules on violent discourse such as ‘death to Russian invaders’,” as the group explained.

Finally, on April 21, a Russian court sentenced Google to a fine of 11 million rubles (more than € 126,000) for not deleting content. “forbidden” on the offensive in Ukraine. According to Russian news agencies, the American giant was especially criticized for posting on YouTube a video of an alleged telephone conversation between Russian soldiers and their relatives in which these soldiers complained of significant human losses in their ranks.

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

Not to see how the rear is demobilized or certain information is leaked to the Internet, the Russian government has further intensified pressure on Western social media. For Marie-Gabrielle Bertran, a doctoral student in geopolitics at Paris-8 and a researcher at the Geode Center, this block is “an attempt by the Russian government to control the data and block all speeches claiming that the Russian army is the attacker in this conflict”.

However, there are mechanisms for solution. Thus, Leo, a French expatriate in Russia, explains that his Russian friends “All have remained without exception” access to western social media, and all young Russians are still active on Instagram, but also on TikTok or Snapchat. ”. According to him, “You can access networks such as Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp without any restrictions with a VPN (software that allows you to connect to another country to circumvent bans) eThey are still just as popular among Russians: cafes, restaurants and cultural organizations continue to use them as usual. ” explain.

→ ANALYSIS. Ukrainian crisis: the information battle continues

However, the use of this software constitutes a “risk” for users because for several years they are in the crosshairs of Russian law. “It’s neither legal nor illegal” use them, but the Russian state may consider it “The use of VPN will be used to prevent blockages. In the context of an investigation, this can be considered a negative point.explains Marie-Gabrielle Bertran.

For Julien Nocetti, professor-researcher at the Saint-Cyr military academy and specialist in cyberspace governance, this policy of blocking “It has to be in a long-term policy to seal the Russian digital sphere.” According to him, “There is a gap between sovereignty projects in Russia and circumvention practices, which use services such as VPN or Tor (a relatively anonymous way to connect, NDR) ». In late 2021, the FSB, the Russian security service, adopted a list of 60 subjects banned on social media, as a state secret, or military secrecy such as troop morale, artificial intelligence , etc.

Social media, still very popular in Russia

Despite the ban on Western social media in the country, “Instagram is widely used in Russia, by just over 70 million people, especially among the middle classes.” points out Julien Nocetti. Therefore, the restrictions imposed may have an economic impact on certain users. “Many small and medium-sized businesses used Instagram to promote their products overseas. says Marie-Gabrielle Bertran. For these Russians and for influencers, their Instagram blockit really means a loss of revenue. »

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 have been banned in Russia, are used by 23% and 6% of respondents respectively.”says Levada.

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