If there’s one thing the world generally views Russians as, it’s tough. So when the Russian government tried to tell everyone in the country that they aren’t allowed to view certain websites, what do you think happened?
Let’s look at the current situation in Russia revolving around Internet censorship and how Russians are bypassing it.
How Does Internet Censorship Affect Russia?
The Internet censorship laws took into effect on November 1st, 2012. This is when a blacklist was issued and provided to Internet service providers.. The law originally passed due to the belief that blacklisting certain websites would protect visitors from content surrounding child pornography, drugs, and suicide.
It’s not just an attempt at blocking illegal pages though, rather the Russian government is trying to block their country from Internet freedom. There are many possible reasons for this. It may be for the purpose of preventing opposing views – after all, many large-scale independent news sites were blocked by Russia. Of the list, Kasparov.ru, which is operated by an anti-corruption fighter (Alexei Navalny), was blocked.
This argument can be further noticed by looking at the situation where Ekho Moskvy radio, a state-owned radio station, saw their editor get the boot only to be replaced with the ex-Voice of Russia Deputy Chairwoman.
It doesn’t stop at independent news websites though.
A number of English and Russian Wikipedia pages ended up on the blacklist. In fairness, these pages went into details on smoking cannabis, committing suicide, lethal injection, and self-immolation. Many other drug-related websites were blocked as well.
Understandable, but there’s a point in time where the Russian government really crossed the line. Blocking freedom of speech by preventing Russians from viewing news websites and blogs does just that.
How Are Russians Bypassing The Internet Censorship Laws?
The title reads the truth…Russians are not fazed by the Internet censorship laws in Russia.
Because there are ways around these website bans.
Many Russians are finding themselves using private browsing methods, such as virtual private networks (VPNs), proxy servers, and the Tor network, in order to access blacklisted content.
Virtual private networks allow users to use the network like you would with a private network. Many businesses use VPNs because it allows them to sync their access location, even while traveling. To bypass Internet censorship laws, VPNs are also used in conjunction with proxy severs. This creates an anonymous identity and a location with a non-Russian IP address.
The Tor network is the free alternative – but a few bucks a month on a good VPN is well worth it. Tor runs slower and has some limitations on the scripts that it can run. As a result, most Russians find themselves forking over a couple bucks for the easy use of a VPN.
What Will Happen With Russia’s Internet Ban in the Future?
Russia has long been known for making a stand and ignoring the recourse. It is expected that this will be no different for Internet censorship. It is still debatable whether it gets to the severity of the Internet ban in Turkey (affecting YouTube and Twitter) or it’s just for the government’s personal gain. If the latter, you can expect to see a lot more controlling of controversial and opposing speech for websites in Russia.
At the same time, more and more people will be affected by the censorship laws that are in place. This multiplying effect will also translate to a multiplying effect on Russian VPN users. At a certain point, the Russian government may realize that their blockage attempts are unrealistic. After all, it just takes one VPN (and there are many) and anyone in Russia can visit any of the country’s blacklisted websites.
Freedom of speech is something that will never be completely taken away. Those that have something to say will make sure it gets out by some means. The government cannot work quick enough if they are trying to fight against Internet speech. The speed of which tweeting on Twitter takes place means an entire Twitter ban would be needed to prevent government-opposing messages from getting out.
Sure, they can ban Twitter. They can ban YouTube. But unless they ban the entire Internet and get rid of all the Internet service providers, it will only put a dent in freedom of speech in Russia.
It will only make it harder to get your words across. It will make it tougher to see what everyone else is saying. But at the end of the day, it gives us a whole lot more to talk about.
If the government wants everyone in its country to be its enemy, it is definitely going about it the right way.