A new law goes into effect in Russia on August 1, 2014, and if major American companies obey it, it might just kill the entire Internet.
As part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing consolidation of power and crackdown on dissent, a new Russian law will go into effect on August 1, requiring any social media company with readers in Russia to store all of its sensitive user data in Russia, on Russian servers, and make that data available to the Russian authorities, on demand, without a court order.
Oh, but it gets better. The user data the Russians are demanding be kept in Russia, and made available to the government at will, isn’t restricted to Russian social media fans. The legislation requires companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook to keep all of their user data, including yours and mine, on Russian servers, and to turn that data over to the Russian government whenever they ask for it.
Since the law’s passage the Russian government has threatened to block Twitter, Google and Facebook in Russia if they don’t abide by the new law, then turned around and said they’d never block those sites, then hinted again that they just might.
Why are the Russians doing this? So that they can find the identity of someone who writes a tweet, or a comment on Facebook, that they don’t like — and send him and his family to a gulag.
The new social media law comes at the same time as another amendment requiring bloggers to register with the government and to abide by the country’s laws governing the mass media. Again, the new law, part of a larger anti-terrorism bill, is meant to stifle dissent, by getting rid of the shield of anonymity, and subject bloggers to additional laws which give the government additional crimes with which to charge dissenters.
The blogger bill is particularly onerous as it covers anyone who receives more than 3,000 “visitors,” and that appears to include people with more than 3,000 Twitter followers, or possibly anyone who writes a tweet that’s read by more than 3,000 people.
What’s fascinating, and telling, is that while the Russian government increasingly clamps down on the Internet, and attempts to continually remove opposition political content from the Web, the Putin regime has done nothing about a nationwide network of Russian neo-Nazis who continue to use an Internet portal controlled by one of Putin’s favorite oligarchs to perpetrate and advertise the serial abduction and torture of gay, black and Jewish Russians. The neo-Nazis claim to have conducted nearly 1,500 kidnappings in the past two years alone.
As I’ve written before, the site is called VKontakte, aka VK.com, and was created and run by Russian social media entrepreneur Pavel Durov, until he was recently run out of the country, and the site was taken over by Alisher Usmanov, the richest man in Russia and a friend of Putin. The neo-Nazi gangs, which operate under the umbrella of a group called “Occupy Pedophilia,” openly use VKontakte to post “help wanted” ads seeking assistance with the kidnappings, and then post videos of the abductions, and subsequent torture of their victims, on VK.com.
To date, there are nearly 4,000 such “gay snuff” films, as I call them (though the victims don’t die, they surely wish they were dead) on VKontakte, and the company refuses to remove them, the profiles of the kidnappers, the abduction help wanted ads, or anything else connected to the criminal enterprise. VK’s refusal to enforce even its own terms of service in this area caused the state of California’s pension fund, CalPERS, to divest from two of Usmanov’s companies, Mail.ru and MegaFon, just last week.
Here is a snippet of one of the 4,000 kidnapping videos from VKontakte. In the original, you can hear their kidnapper singing while the men, in tears, are forced to dance on camera after having their heads shaved and painted. VK claims that these videos, taken by kidnappers of their victims being tortured, and broadcast on the Internet, in a country that is supremely homophobic, in order to destroy the lives of the victims, is “free speech.”
VK says it simply can’t remove the videos unless the victims themselves come forward as ask for them to be removed. Some of the victims are as young as 13 years of age, and agreed to meet their captors after being told they’d be paid for sex. So if those victims came forward, they could be charged with a crime. Let alone, VKontakte is expecting a possibly-gay 13 year old to out themselves to a company tied to the exceedingly homophobic Russian government.
Yes, “free speech.”
But more interesting than VK.com’s complicity in these ongoing hate crimes is the Russian government’s refusal to do anything to stop them. There’s been no indication that the Russian government has asked (or demanded that) VK to stop aiding and abetting the kidnappings, and the government itself refuses to arrest the kidnappers, whose identities in many cases are already known.
This goes to a larger problem with the Russian government embracing a new wave of fascism to achieve its neo-colonial goals on its boarders, and worldwide. While claiming it intervened in Ukraine to stop “Nazis,” the Russian government is actually using neo-Nazi and far-right groups to further its policy goals, such as Occupy Pedophilia’s nationwide network in Russia. There was a fantastic article on this in the New Republic recently, by Timothy Snyder, which I highly recommend.
More from Snyder – it’s a long piece, and well worth the read if you care about the Ukrainian issue, or the broader problem that is Russia:
People who criticize only the Ukrainian right often fail to notice two very important things. The first is that the revolution in Ukraine came from the left. It was a mass movement of the kind Europeans and Americans now know only from the history books. Its enemy was an authoritarian kleptocrat, and its central program was social justice and the rule of law. It was initiated by a journalist of Afghan background, its first two mortal casualties were an Armenian and a Belarusian, and it was supported by the Muslim Crimean Tatar community as well as many Ukrainian Jews. A Jewish Red Army veteran was among those killed in the sniper massacre. Multiple Israel Defense Forces veterans fought for freedom in Ukraine.
The Maidan functioned in two languages simultaneously, Ukrainian and Russian, because Kiev is a bilingual city, Ukraine is a bilingual country, and Ukrainians are bilingual people. Indeed, the motor of the revolution was the Russian-speaking middle class of Kiev. The current government, whatever its shortcomings, is un-self-consciously multiethnic and multilingual. In fact, Ukraine is now the site of the largest and most important free media in the Russian language, since important media in Ukraine appears in Russian and since freedom of speech prevails. Putin’s idea of defending Russian speakers in Ukraine is absurd on many levels, but one of them is this: People can say what they like in Russian in Ukraine, but they cannot do so in Russia itself. Separatists in the Ukrainian east, who, according to a series of opinion polls, represent a minority of the population, are protesting for the right to join a country where protest is illegal. They are working to stop elections in which the legitimate interests of Ukrainians in the east can be voiced. If these regions join Russia, their inhabitants can forget about casting meaningful votes in the future.
This is the second thing that goes unnoticed: The authoritarian right in Russia is infinitely more dangerous than the authoritarian right in Ukraine. It is in power, for one thing. It has no meaningful rivals, for another. It does not have to accommodate itself to domestic elections or international expectations, for a third. And it is now pursuing a foreign policy that is based openly upon the ethnicization of the world. It does not matter who an individual is according to law or his own preferences: The fact that he speaks Russian makes him a Volksgenosse requiring Russian protection, which is to say invasion. The Russian parliament granted Putin the authority to invade the entirety of Ukraine and to transform its social and political structure, which is an extraordinarily radical goal. The Russian parliament also sent a missive to the Polish foreign ministry proposing a partition of Ukraine. On popular Russian television, Jews are blamed for the Holocaust; in the major newspaper Izvestiia, Hitler is rehabilitated as a reasonable statesman responding to unfair Western pressure; on May Day, Russian neo-Nazis march….
Russian propaganda insists to Westerners that the problem with Ukraine is that its government is too far to the right, even as Russia builds a coalition with the European far right. Extremist, populist, and neo-Nazi party members went to Crimea and praised the electoral farce as a model for Europe. As Anton Shekhovtsov, a researcher of the European far right, has pointed out, the leader of the Bulgarian extreme right launched his party’s campaign for the European parliament in Moscow. The Italian Fronte Nazionale praises Putin for his “courageous position against the powerful gay lobby.” The neo-Nazis of the Greek Golden Dawn see Russia as Ukraine’s defender against “the ravens of international usury.” Heinz-Christian Strache of the Austrian FPÖ chimes in, surreally, that Putin is a “pure democrat.” Even Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, recently shared Putin’s propaganda on Ukraine with millions of British viewers in a televised debate, claiming absurdly that the European Union has “blood on its hands” in Ukraine.
It’s really quite fascinating that our pique with Russia over its treatment of gays, and the Kremlin’s refusal to do anything about the neo-Nazi menace at home, fits nicely into a larger context of Putin’s grand plan to recreate a mini-me version of the Soviet Union. It’s not surprising, I suppose, that the gay issue has proven itself a window into Putin’s soul, as it were, but it is fascinating. And scary.