For about a month now, the Russian government has been reducing the use of Twitter in the country as the social network has not agreed to cancel some tweets that are considered dangerous by the authorities. The site works, but is often slow, with some content like videos almost inaccessible. Roscomnatser (and, according to critics, Internet censorship), the state organization that handles online communications, took advantage of the recession. Following the great struggles of the last few months Opponent Alexei Navalny’s release should be heard, even if it is tweeted that it should be canceled and it does not directly concern Navalny.
The action against Twitter, along with the demonstrations, was largely organized on social networks, and the Russian government is taking advantage of the opportunity to test some of the new Internet regulation and censorship methods that were in development. For many years now, and after many failures they will start working.
The goal of the Russian government is to create a “sovereign Internet” that is more secure, controlled and censored than the West. He wrote The Financial Times, Last month was the most important test ever performed on the operation of Twitter’s recession filter and audit technology systems.
The Russian government, in early March, asked Twitter to delete 3,168 tweets from 2017, which, according to Roskomnadzor, “incites child suicide and contains information on child pornography and drug use.” In the same days, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that society would “fall apart” if the Internet “did not submit to proper laws and moral rules”.
To fulfill his request, Roskomnadzor announced that it would begin to significantly reduce the loading time of Twitter images and videos on all mobile devices and half computers. This is the first time Russian authorities have used this kind of pressure, and for this reason it is particularly significant, according to analysts: Twitter, with 700,000 active users, is the smallest social network in Russia, and the source of the recession. Public before launching large social networks like Facebook and YouTube.
One of the problems with censorship in Russia is that, in fact, large American social networks do not agree when they consider the demands of the authorities to be exaggerated and repressive. Over the years, Roskomnadzor’s orders and legislation passed by parliament have been ignored or ignored by the platforms more than once, and the government, due to its poor technical capabilities, has no way to react.
The case of Telegram, a popular news service founded by Russian Pavel Trov, is very popular: in 2018 Roskomnadzor was ordered to block Russian security services for refusing access to user group chats. But function, simply, It didn’t work. The telegram continued to operate as before, and even members of the Russian government continued to use it. Eventually, after the two-year-old telegram block was used to mock the government, Roscomnatser decided to remove it in mid-2020, and even then no one noticed the difference.
– read more: What should the EU do with Russia
The dictatorial test on Twitter got off to a shocking start. In the early days, the recession was less felt by users, and the manipulation of the Internet connection placed by Roscomnatsar made many sites inaccessible, including the Kremlin and Roscomnatser’s site. However, things recovered in the next few days, and Twitter encountered several setbacks, though not as much as officials expected.
In early April, Roskomnadzor announced that Twitter had deleted 1,900 of the more than 3,000 alleged tweets, and that the site would continue to slow down until mid-May to force the company to delete all of them.
For the Russian censor, this is a fair decision.
In contrast to the censorship of the Internet in China, in the early 2000s the government began to act with enormous investment of people and means, and with the firm determination of the government to make Western services and digital content inaccessible to citizens. In Russia, the Internet has always been free. All Western social networks are accessible (except Center) and surrounded by the most popular local alternatives such as VKontakte and search engine Yandex, which also provide Uber-style mapping and transport services.
Since 2011-2012, after Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency, there have been massive protests across the country, by the government He started worrying about managing the internet, Censor undesirable content and manage disagreement. At the time, however, it was difficult to recover and develop an audit and control system similar to China’s largest firewall, which was a complex mix of technology, law and manpower: Chinese auditing estimated to employ more than two million employees and temporary workers. To verify the content, remove unwanted content and spread the state campaign. Roscomnatser, on the other hand, has only 3,000 employees. Moreover, Russian citizens now largely use and appreciate Western services: forcing them to stop using them would have been difficult and politically dangerous.
In 2019, the government passed a new law with two serious and ambitious goals: to gain control over online content and, if necessary, to ensure the possibility of separating the Russian Internet from the rest of the world. Twitter’s recession is significant because it is the first time the government has had some success in implementing those goals.
The law, which has been widely criticized by opposition and activists, requires all network operators (our equivalent of Tim, Vodafone and Fastweb) to install so-called devices. Middle box Filter and control all content passing through the network using special software. This procedure is called Deep pocket study (I.e. in-depth pocket exploration because the contents of the network travel as one of the data packets) and allows you to gain full access to everything that goes through the network under the test. Over there Deep pocket study It can be used for formal purposes, for example network maintenance and security testing, but also for audit and monitoring purposes.
Come on He wrote Associated Press, The law provides for it Middle box Are designed to allow the Russian government to access and control Internet traffic.
This system is very useful because it allows you to monitor, block or reduce private sites or domains, but it has many problems: it is technically complex because thousands Middle box, Which is very expensive (second An estimate Report Financial Times Equipment is $ 2 billion a year to maintain) and most importantly, it is very difficult to work on such a large scale. So the fact that the Twitter test was at least somewhat successful is a victory for Russian censorship – and a problem for foreign digital companies.
The second part of the 2019 law provides the full technical measures to provide the possibility of disconnecting Russia’s Internet connection from the rest of the world and allowing it to operate in isolation, if the government so desires. This measure was presented as a requirement for national security, but its applications may also be for audit and information control. However, the complex systems needed to isolate the Internet in Russia are not yet ready and it is not known when and when they will be available. Again, this is a technically complex and very expensive process.
– read more: Fake political opposition in Russia
The Russian process of Internet control and the separation of the national network is being watched with great interest by many countries around the world, such as India, Brazil and South Africa, all ready to create their own version of the “sovereign Internet”: if Russia wins, they may begin to think about it.
The Russian government has never stopped using more traditional methods to try to control the Internet, especially social media and digital sites, while waiting for technological systems to be completed. A few years ago the Russian Parliament passed a law last month requiring smartphone manufacturers to pre-install certain Russian applications (such as Yandex and ICQ) on their devices. It is adaptable Apple too.
Late last year, United Russia proposed Putin’s party An ace This will allow the government to block access to social networks that pursue “discriminatory” practices against the Russian state media. Last month, however, Roscomnatser delivered An ace All users of social networking and messaging applications should be compelled to hand over copies of their identity documents to the authorities.