The Russian government has blocked access to a blog-hosting site that publishes reports from at least two prominent independent journalists often critical of the Kremlin. The site has been added to the country’s recently established official “internet blacklist.”
LJRossia.org, also known as InsaneJournal, is “a non-profit project created to support freedom of speech, civil society and encourage the free exchange of ideas.” The site was censored today, reportedly over two posts that contained “child pornography elements.” But instead of blocking or removing the two posts in question, the entire site is inaccessible on at least one Russian ISP, RosTelekom.
While the child pornography is deplorable, Russian activists speculate that the government has used allegations of such content as an excuse to silence political opposition.
At least two prominent journalists host their blogs on LJRossia.org: Andrei Malgin, a journalist who has been very critical of the government and hosts a mirror site at LJR, and Vladimir Pribylovsky, who has been targeted for publishing a large database of government misdeeds and for disclosing official documents that expose corruption.
LJR is seen as a less-regulated platform than LiveJournal, Russia’s most popular blogging network. LiveJournal is home to many well-known Russian political pundits and journalists, as well as opposition leader and political activist Alexei Navalny. LJR is based off an early open-source version of LiveJournal.
Prior to today’s reports of censorship, sites on the blacklist mainly consisted of child pornography, drug use, or suicide-related posts. However, LJR is not the first main site to be blocked.
In November, the government agency in charge of the blacklist, Roskomnadzor (which means “Overseeing Russian Communications”) censored Lurkmore, a Russian-language wiki-style encyclopedia. The site was blocked for 10 days over an article about suicide, causing public uproar. Only after the post was removed was Lurkmore available again within Russia.
The decision to block LJR raises numerous concerns. LJR is an independent, non-commercial outfit, meaning it has no tech firm or big business standing behind it. LJR hosts user-generated content–often critical of the government–and promotes free speech and open dialogue. It was an easy target for Roskomnadzor, signaling the agency’s willingness to go after online sites that don’t play by the rules.
The biggest fear though, is that Roskomnadzor will go after big sites like LiveJournal next. Like LJR, LiveJournal is hosted outside of Russia, and is out of the Kremlin’s reach when it comes to seizing domains. However, DNS or IP blocking would easily make the site inaccessible within Russia. Activists worry that if the government will block an entire blog network because of the actions of a few individuals, that LiveJournal–home to some of Russia’s most vocal government critics and resonant independent voices–may be at greater risk than previously realized.
If this is the case, than any social networks or site hosting user-generated content, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, may be vulnerable to filtering. The country’s popular Russian-language social networks, Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, are seen as exempt from such targeting: activists accuse the government of imposing tight controls over content. And as both Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki are hosted in Russia, they fall under Russian legal jurisdiction, offering the goverment easy access to user data–underscoring the fact that social networks can double as highly effective surveillance tools.
The censoring of independent sites like LJR allows the Russian government to exert a monopoly over user choice of web services while concentrating pressure on the remaining few. If nothing else, today’s decisions sends a clear and chilling message to Russian journalists and internet users: The government owns your internet, and will do whatever it sees fit to control it. If you don’t play by their rules, you’re offline.