Russian Efforts to Close Xenophobic Websites Not Effective, Experts Say
By Paul Goble
Moscow officials are increasingly interested in blocking websites they deem extremist, but in most cases they lack the capacity to do so. And even when they succeed in closing one site, experts say, the nature of the Internet means that two or more similar sites take its place, much like the multiplication of heads of “a mythical dragon.”
As part of the Secure Runet Week, government and academic specialists organized a roundtable on “Forbidden Content in the Runet: Facts, Statistics, and Examples.” And this year they have devoted particular attention to “the role of the Internet in the solution of the nationality question” (rian.ru/press_video/20110201/329040320.html).
While participants offered some “examples of successful cooperation between the Internet community and the powers,” most pointed to the problems that the authorities have in doing anything, problems that reflect both limitations in the law and the international and flexible nature of the Internet itself.
In reporting on this roundtable, Novosti commentator Sergey Varshavchik underscored that “no one can give a 100 percent guarantee that extremist materials [blocked in one place] won’t appear in another place in the World Wide Web,” like “the mythical dragon in the place of one lopped off head grew two new ones” (www.rian.ru/analytics/20110202/329543038.html).
Other participants in the roundtable pointed to even greater difficulties. Sergey Gulyaev, the representative of the social ties administration of the Moscow office of the interior ministry, said that officials often get information too late in order to be able to document its appearance and track down where it came from.
Vladimir Fornal, the deputy chief of the K Department of the Interior Administration in Moscow Oblast agreed, and he complained to journalists that “at times when a complain reaches us, many references already do not exist and it is impossible to follow them” back to where they came from.
On a more positive note, Gulyaev added, some progress is being made because Runet operators are policing themselves, something that gives ho0pe for the future. Indeed, he continued, “one can conclude that the epoch of the wild Internet has passed” and that the Runet will take steps to remove “prohibited materials.”
Vladislav Tsyplukhin, a representative of the social network “V Kontakte,” told the group that his organization now has approximately “600 moderators” whose job it is to make sure that extremist and other banned materials do not appear on its sites. But the task they and others like them face is enormous.
There was “an especially powerful outburst of complaints” at the Manezh Square events in December, officials said, complaints about radical nationalism that overwhelmed the usual complaints about child pornography. But in many cases, perhaps 90 percent, what people were upset about did not fall within the limits of the law as it now exists.
But that is only one part of the problem, the roundtable suggested. Russian officials can bring charges against the RU and SU domains, but they can do little against those registered abroad, like Kavkaz-Tsentr, a radical North Caucasus site that Moscow has pursued without success as the site has shifted its hosting from one country to another.
Given this situation, Anton Nosik a journalist who participated in the formation of Runet said that “the struggle with extremism on the Internet is senseless and ineffective because such sites, in his view, number in the hundreds of thousands” and can always outpace the efforts of the authorities to close them down.
But political and social pressure to do just that continues, and consequently, Russian officials will use all the weapons at their command from denial of service attacks to hacking to pursuit of IP providers in order to do so, even though as Nosik suggests, they may be fighting a losing battle. (For an example, see www.vestitambov.ru/?new_id=3516).