The Russian government has drawn closer to replicating the broad powers of Facebook and Twitter to suppress speech and curb opinion at the internet’s edge.
Following the spate of disinformation stories and viral conspiracies that have dominated social media in recent months, the Russian parliament passed a bill Thursday that will give the government the ability to block content and add new speech restrictions on the internet, according to the New York Times. The new legislation, passed with a vote of 333-1, will bring “algorithmic censorship” to Russia for the first time, as well as allow Russian authorities to disconnect “online content servers from the network.” The bill now goes to President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to sign it into law.
Although it is only a bill, the Trump administration and its allies in Congress have cheered it on, and President Trump has expressed his support for the act in private.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have made it their goal to provide a platform to debate and even combat fake news, but their algorithms, and even their advertising features, have proven to be inept at thwarting misinformation. Russia has stepped up its manipulation tactics against the U.S. as part of an ongoing effort to sway the 2016 presidential election. It is now attempting to bolster its influence over European politics and the domestic news cycle in a bid to build up the social media influence of the two largest Russian media companies, by taking on new censorship powers over online speech and content on the internet. It is part of the Russian government’s larger goal of smothering dissent, a far-reaching crackdown on independent media, and the return of dictator-style censorship powers to Russia that began as late as the 1980s, the New York Times notes.
With a little over a week until Inauguration Day, the government has raised the stakes of its internet censorship program by expanding its scope to Internet Service Providers. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reports that current bills give ISPs the ability to block certain material, including blocked words, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The government could also block entire server chains at the internet’s edge. “This new proposal clearly gives ISPs the legal tools to influence users at the edge of the internet,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times. “If ISPs have that capability, that’s not censorship but all filtering.”
Read the full story at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
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