Russian Government working to control the message on the Web

October 28th, 2007

The Washington Post has an article, Kremlin Seeks To Extend Its Reach in Cyberspace , on how the Russian government is increasingly using the Web to influence and control public information and opinion.

“After ignoring the Internet for years to focus on controlling traditional media such as television and newspapers, the Kremlin and its allies are turning their attention to cyberspace, which remains a haven for critical reporting and vibrant discussion in Russia’s dwindling public sphere.”

With more than one-third of new Web content now coming from users of social media sites, this effort is focused on blogs, which have been a problem for in the past.

“Some Russian Internet experts say a turning point came in 2004, when blogs and uncensored online publications helped drive a popular uprising in Ukraine after a pro-Moscow candidate was declared the winner of a presidential election.”

But, as we all know, it’s possible for a knowledgeable and active group to have an undue influence in social media systems. An example from the Wapo story is telling.

“On April 14, an opposition movement held a march in central Moscow that drew hundreds of people; police detained at least 170, including the leader of the march, chess star Garry Kasparov. Pavel Danilin, a 30-year-old Putin supporter and blogger whose online icon is the fearsome robot of the “Terminator” movie, works for a political consulting company loyal to the Kremlin. He said he and his team, which included people from a youth movement called the Young Guard, quickly started blogging that day about a smaller, pro-Kremlin march held at the same time. They linked to one another repeatedly and soon, Danilin said, posts about the pro-Kremlin march had crowded out all the items about the opposition march on the Yandex Web portal’s coveted ranking of the top five Russian blog posts. “We played it beautifully,” Danilin said.”

In addition to governments implicit or explicit self-promotion through pushing their message, they can also crack down on voices they do not like.

“Prosecutors have begun to target postings on blogs or Internet chat sites, charging users with slander or extremism after they criticize Putin or other officials. Most such incidents have occurred outside Moscow, and federal officials deny that they signal any broader campaign to control the Internet.”

I am afraid that we will see much more of this from all kinds of governments and also from large and powerful businesses.