Russia clamps down on bloggers
A new law in Russia will require bloggers to register with the government, which could be a huge detriment to online freedom within the country.
One of the biggest developments of the Internet has been that it serves as a forum for people to share their voice. Be it through social media or a personal blog, there are a number of different ways for citizens to express themselves online. This has been heralded as one of the Internet's most liberating qualities.
In the past, sharing one's voice would have meant needing to get published in a newspaper or even proclaiming one's ideas in a public forum such as a town meeting. Unfortunately, this could both be logistically difficult and only reach a small number of people. With the emergence of online blogging and sharing, almost anyone can share their opinion so long as they have access to a computer and Internet connection.
Unfortunately, these capabilities are becoming more and more difficult to attain due to governments looking to control the course of online dialogue. The power of sharing and commentary online reached a climax during the Arab Spring when users used social media outlets like Twitter to mobilize, report on and voice concern about protests against the government. As a result, many authoritarian governments have sought to impose strict controls over the kind of content that is posted online. For instance, China has strict rules against "spreading rumors online" while Turkey and Iran have banned social media like Twitter entirely.
New Russian law
These policies are true of Russia as well. The country has long used censorship liberally, banning anything from public discussions about homosexuality to protests against the government. However, its most recent law will look to directly address some of the more prominent voices online – bloggers.
President Vladimir Putin recently approved what has been commonly referred to as the "bloggers law," which will require any website that receives more that 3,000 visitors per day to register with the government. This means that bloggers will no longer be able to remain anonymous, which could greatly cut down on their willingness to be critical of the government.
This comes at a time, when there is a lot to be critical of. The country has come under international scrutiny because of its annexation of Crimea and escalating violence between the country and Ukraine. The New York Times reported that the government has passed other laws that make it more difficult for nongovernmental organizations to operate within the country and has sought to silence some of the governments biggest critics, such as Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov.
Another problem with the law is that it will require that organizations like search engines and social networks to keep records of up to six months on Russian soil, which could allow the government to better track the actions of bloggers.
"This law will cut the number of critical voices and opposition voices on the Internet," said Galina Arapova, an expert on Russian media law, according to the Times. "The whole package seems quite restrictive and might affect harshly those who disseminate critical information about the state, about authorities, about public figures."
A global trend
Unfortunately, such policies are not restricted to just Russia. As stated before, Iran, Turkey and China have all enacted similar policies, along with numerous other countries.
This unfortunately marks a trend in which autocratic governments are looking to silence their dissenters online by increasing Internet control. This undoes some of the most important elements of the Internet, and provides governments with even greater control over citizens. Such laws simply cannot exist if cyberspace is to attain the liberating goals it was founded on.