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Russia: Automatic Protection For Official Reputations – Analysis

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By Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan

The state is continuing to perfect the system governing information that appears on the Internet, paying particular attention to protecting official reputations. On July 12, Sergei Zheleznyak, Chair of the State Duma’s Information Policy Committee, suggested content posted on the Internet that is extremist in nature should be deleted within 24 hours.

Until now, Internet media owners had a deadline of three days. The parliamentary deputy also mentioned that the state is already creating a single information system, which will contain information about all media outlets and suggested using this system to report breaches to media outlet owners.

“It is now vital that we understand what technology this needs to work, so that the delivery of these messages is guaranteed, and their receipt is also recorded,” Zheleznyak told Rossiiskaya Gazeta. Currently, he said, information about content being posted on sites that breaks the law is delivered by registered post. And “of course therefore we can’t even begin to think about any rapid response.” These proposals have already been raised for discussion by working groups created under the Communications Ministry. The fact that Russia’s media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, the agency responsible for delivering these warnings to media outlets, had ordered the creation of a system to monitor extremist content published online, was made public in March 2010. But it was not immediately apparent what the State Duma stands to gain from cutting the deadline for the deletion of information posted to a day.

Perhaps the answer lies in the official remit for these systems. In the section “Naming and specifying the requirements for the system of regulation for Internet media outlets and information,” alongside mentions of material that propagates Nazi ideology, incitement to terrorism and so forth, one point deals with the appearance of material that publicly levels accusations that are known to be false against people in government posts and committing crimes.

Clearly, given the broader context of a central authority that is not certain it has the situation in the regions under control, there was a great need for a system like this that can, in real time, track online attacks against officials and which requires the website owners registered as media outlets to respond rapidly and delete them.

Further evidence of the need for a system like this came literally days ago, when the media watchdog Roskomnadzor found itself in hot water with the popular information agency URA.Ru, covering events in the Urals federal region. On July 7, it editorial office received an email from the media watchdog saying that comments published by a user under the name “Turkish House master” to the news item “Newsflash! Bastrykin has flown in because of the conflict in Sagra. He is now in the village – while the local villagers are in the Urals’ capital city” should be deleted since they amount to the misuse of media freedom. It will be recalled that Sagra, a small village just outside Ekaterinburg, found itself in the media spotlight and at the center of the authorities’ attention two weeks ago, when a mass brawl between local villagers and people from Azerbaijan took place, killing one man.

URA.Ru’s editorial office rushed to carry out the orders they’d received from Roskomnadzor, but the problem was that the watchdog’s missive only reached the editorial offices on the evening of the 11th, even though it was sent on the 7th, a fact URA.Ru can prove. It is not clear why it took the message so long to reach its intended recipient, but anyone who has had even a fleeting encounter with state bureaucracy will not be at all surprised to hear it took an official agency five days to send an email.

Zheleznyak suggests this problem be solved by the creation of a “private office” for each media outlet, in the system dealing with anti-extremist warnings. Incidentally, the creation of these systems is advancing with considerable alacrity: the company DataCenter won a government tender in April, and it is expected that the system will be up and running by the end of this year. For now, though, it is not clear how effective this system will be in automatically recognizing slanderous statements about public officials.

Published in Ezhednevny Zhurnal

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Agentura

Agentura.Ru is an Russian web-site founded in 2000 as internet-community of journalists monitor and write about Russian, American, British, and other Western security and intelligence agencies. Editor of Agentura.Ru is Andrei Soldatov, deputy editor - Irina Borogan.

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