Russian online censorship raises socio-economic concerns
Russia's recent actions to limit free expression online is creating cause for concern on multiple fronts.
Online activity is fast becoming one of the most common tools for free expression throughout much of the world. Everyone from journalists, artists and everyday citizens are finding new and innovative ways to voice their opinions. Be it on the actions of a government or just a silly cat meme, these resources are fast becoming among the most common ways that citizens of the world can exercise their individual liberties.
However, in many parts of the world, governments are looking to limit these opportunities for free expression, particularly in countries where governments want to maintain strict control over how they are perceived. This has been the case in Russia for sometime. While the country has extended its political and economic reach considerably, it has done so in ways that have not been met with widespread acceptance.
As a result, numerous people have taken to the Internet to express their dismay. While it has proven to be a useful tool for people to get their voice out, the Kremlin has recognized this and is looking to silence these voices.
Forbes Magazine reported that in 2012, the government passed an "Internet blacklist law," which allowed government officials to block websites online that posted content deemed extremist and harmful to children without a court order. While these intentions may seem good natured, the law has been used to block religious websites, news sites and blogs that are critical of the government.
The news source noted that this law expanded in December 2013 to include content that promotes extremism and public protests. As a result, the blogs of prominent figures like Garry Kasparov and Alexey Navalny have been blocked only recently.
Now, it seems if the government is continuing its crackdown on free expression online. Human Rights Watch reported that the government recently launched a "foreign agents" campaign that looks to investigate nongovernmental organizations throughout the country, and have them register as foreign agents. This would mean that NGOs that fell under this classification could under go legal scrutiny that would make their operations much more difficult. Many of these organizations deal with sensitive issues in the country like LGBT rights which means that this law could be seen as another way to limit the political discourse in the country.
The socio-economic impact
There are numerous repercussions for thee kinds of actions in Russia. First and foremost are the personal liberties that are being infringed upon. With these censorship policies come surveillance ones, meaning the government can examine user information from Facebook and other sites without the person's knowledge. This works counter to many of the advantages that the Internet provides in that people can freely express their thoughts and opinions.
Forbes noted that beyond the social ramifications of these actions, the Russian economy could suffer as well. The news source cited a study that explains a free Internet creates larger volumes of ecommerce and online business in general. Also, multinational companies will be more likely to invest in national economies that can help facilitate better online commerce.
By continuing to pursue these limiting policies, the government ends up hurting the Russian populace as a whole. At the end of the day, the Kremlin needs to consider the end game of these policies. Any government is going to see some form of criticism leveled in its direction, but it is how it reacts to it that really dictates the country's socio-economic success.
In limiting free speech and an open Internet, the Kremlin is inviting more harm than good. Though the short term benefits of less criticism may seem enticing, it ultimately limits the progress of the whole in the long term.