Netizen Report: Russia's Official Blogger Registry is Open for Business

Artem Loskutov at the 2010 Monstration, a march that combines performance art and political protest, held annually in Novosibirsk and other cities across Siberia. Photo by Maya Shelkovnikova via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Artem Loskutov at the 2010 Monstration, a march that combines performance art and political protest, held annually in Novosibirsk and other cities across Siberia. Photo by Maya Shelkovnikova via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Joey Ayoub, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Hae-in Lim, Kevin Rothrock, Sonia Roubini and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Russia, where as of August 1, any blogger whose site attracts more than 3,000 daily readers will be considered an “official blogger” and must register with the government. This entails turning over personal details including one’s full name, which effectively renders anonymous blogging illegal and impossible. Bloggers will be held liable for any alleged misinformation published on their blogs, including comments.

Only a handful of names have appeared on the list since its launch last Friday, but there's no telling how many bloggers Russia's communications agency, Roscomnadzor, will add to its records. Apart from collecting bloggers’ names and URLs for the registry, Roscomnadzor encourages bloggers to submit their information voluntarily. To expedite the verification process, the government suggests (but does not require) that bloggers share something every Internet user knows never to divulge: their logins and passwords. It's unclear how many Russians have trusted the government with their social network passwords, but reports suggest that roughly 130 people submitted their information to Roscomnadzor on the day the blogger registry launched.

The Russian government also has ramped up censorship of online media in recent months, most recently blocking a number of pages on the social media network Vkontakte calling for more autonomy for Siberia. Further illustrating how far they are willing to go to extinguish dissent in the east, Roscomnadzor says it is considering banning the BBC’s entire website after it featured an interview with the artist Artem Loskutov, whom the regulatory agency called an “extremist” for advocating that Siberia become an autonomous republic. Russian authorities have already forced one major news website, Slon.ru, to remove an interview with Loskutov.

Free Expression: Former Malaysian PM urges government to censor the censors

In a recent blog post, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad condemned platforms such as Facebook for policing content on their sites. Mahathir then took a strange turn, arguing that the government should see this as a reason to impose new restrictions on Internet content. This marks a puzzling reversal of Mahathir’s previous position on the issue. An influential figure in Malaysian politics known for taking controversial positions on civil liberties, Mahathir was once an active promoter of Internet adoption and openness and even approved a 1998 law that intended to protect open expression and media freedom.

Thuggery: Whistleblower arrested over Israeli Defense Forces information leak

Former Israeli combat soldier turned whistle-blower Eran Efrati was arrested by the Israeli authorities and questioned concerning his research on the use of illegal weapons in Gaza. On July 29, Efrati announced on Facebook that he received information from sources within the Israel Defense Forces suggesting that civilians were targeted and killed by Israeli soldiers in the recent Shuja'iyya massacre. In addition to being arrested and questioned, Efrati said that he was unable to access both his Facebook and email accounts.

Surveillance: China has more “Internet public opinion monitors” than military personnel

The Internet public opinion analysis sector is growing rapidly in China, expanding by about 50% a year. This suggests that surveillance of the population is increasing at an unprecedented pace. According to Chinese-language newspaper the Beijing News, 2 million people in China currently work as public opinion analysts, monitoring social networking sites, collecting information about users’ opinions and attitudes and funneling information to policymakers through internal publications. 

Industry: Facebook gives free apps to Zambia

Facebook is partnering with India-based mobile provider Bharti Airtel to provide free Web apps to Zambian mobile subscribers. Under the plan, Airtel customers will have access to Facebook, Google search, Wikipedia, weather and health-related apps, but curiously no news apps. The initiative is part of Facebook’s Internet.org partnership project that intends to “make affordable Internet access available to the two thirds of the world not yet connected.” 

Internet Insecurity: Attack on Tor?

Tor issued a security advisory notifying users of an attack attempting to de-anonymize users who operate or access Tor hidden services. The attack began on January 30, 2014 and ended July 4. According to Tor, users who accessed Tor hidden services within this time frame “should assume they were affected”, though it remains unclear which users were de-anonymized or what data was captured. 

Netizen Activism – “A Mighty Cry” to #FreeZone9Bloggers

On July 31, activists from Islamabad to Hong Kong to Cairo to San Francisco put forth a truly global effort to call for justice for nine bloggers and journalists jailed and charged with terrorism in Ethiopia. Global Voices founder Ethan Zuckerman tells the compelling story behind the Zone 9 blogger collective in a new post .

Cool Things: What is the Internet saying about Gaza? 

Israeli data scientist Gilad Lotan published a comprehensive analysis of online conversations and media coverage of the war in Gaza. Lotan concludes that the breadth of information and perspective on the issue allows Internet enables the building of “personalized propaganda engines that feeds users content which makes them feel good and throws away the uncomfortable bits.”

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