Authoritarian regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies. The Unfreedom Monitor is a Global Voices Advox research initiative examining the growing phenomenon of networked or digital authoritarianism. This executive summary of the report on Russia is from the series of reports to come out of the research under the Unfreedom Monitor. Read the full report here.
This report analyses the key motives for, methods of and responses to digital authoritarianism in Russia. It relies on existing research and advocacy materials, as well as an in-depth examination of media coverage of key events relating to internet governance and regulation of the online sphere in the country, and uses a unique methodology pioneered by Global Voices’ Civic Media Observatory and adapted by Advox’s Unfreedom Monitor project.
The report provides a brief overview of Russia’s political system and regime, as well as its international standing and key political and social transformations. Reviewing Russia’s media system and the state of media freedom, the report then relays comprehensive background information on the development of the internet and its use in Russia and the evolution of the state’s approach to governing content, information and activity in the online space.
Building on this foundation, the report uses the Unfreedom Monitor approach to analyse recent state-owned and independent media coverage with a view to uncovering the key tenets of digital authoritarianism in Russia. The analysis is performed through the prism of several key events or incidents, such as recent parliamentary elections, the passing of significant relevant legislation or implementation of state governance strategies, and Russia’s more recent full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The aim of the analysis is to determine the key narrative frames offered by the state and its discontents to explain, defend or critique the key motives, methods and responses to digital authoritarian practices. Tracing these frames and studying the practices and strategies of state internet governance, censorship and control allows to present a more coherent picture of how digital authoritarianism operates in Russia today. The report also underscores the centrality of the internet in Russia’s political and social life, and thus, the state’s urgency in cementing control over the networked information space, data flows, and telecommunications and internet infrastructure.
Read the full report here.