Internet freedom and access to information is increasingly at risk as mega-powers like Russia and China seek to limit outgoing information flows and dissent, said Alexey Sidorenko of Russia-based Teplitsa.
Sidorenko was the keynote speaker of day two of the annual Highway Africa conference on media development hosted by Rhodes University, Grahamstown.
Sidorenko highlighted pre-2011 trends in Russia regarding the internet. Prior to 2011, state-controlled ‘traditional’ media dominated the media space, whereas the internet was mainly used for entertainment and consumer purposes. There has been a shift in the use of the internet and online blogging however, as dissenters and activists increasingly use online space to highlight state corruption and fraud. The increasing popularity of the internet and blogging has meant that Russia’s largest website has an audience bigger than the leading Russian TV broadcaster Channel 1. “As Russians’ level of trust in the internet grows, so does confidence in TV channels decline,” Sidorenko said.
As internet dissent increases, so too have the methods of online censorship. Sidorenko said that, following the publication of election violations, 23 websites were subject DDoS attacks and consequently forced to shut down. He added that Russian government institutions were increasingly using ‘child protection’ as a guise to clamp down on internet freedom and access to information. Even forms of libel de-criminilised in 2011 were re-introcuded into the penal code this year, Sidorenko said.
Black lists are also increasingly being used to clamp down on dissent, Sidorenko said, where government bodies regulate who is on the black list. These black lists are often defined by regulations set for child protection, and civil society and dissent websites are ‘accidentally’ placed on these lists.
Sidorenko said that, while these internal internet censorship measures were particularly alarming, perhaps most worrying was Russia and China’s 2011 proposal to the UN regarding the soveriengty of national internet sectors.
“This creates a probability of fragmentisation and appearance of isolated, hermetic Net islands,” Sidorenko said, which would allow nation-states to more effectively control the dissemination of information across state borders. “There is an increasing problem with erosion of internet integrity and global interconnectedness,” Sidorenko said.
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