HideOur Black Friday weekend sale ends tomorrow! Shop now to save on all Techdirt gear »
HideOur Black Friday weekend sale ends tomorrow! Shop now to save on all Techdirt gear »

Terrified Of The Internet, Putin Signs Laws Making It Illegal To Criticize Government Leaders Online

from the freedom-is-slavery dept

Russia's efforts to clamp down on anything resembling free speech on the internet continues unabated. Putin's government has spent the last few years effectively making VPNs and private messenger apps illegal. While the government publicly insists the moves are necessary to protect national security, the actual motivators are the same old boring ones we've seen here in the States and elsewhere around the world for decades: fear and control. Russia doesn't want people privately organizing, discussing, or challenging the government's increasingly-authoritarian global impulses.

After taking aim at VPNs, Putin signed two new bills this week that dramatically hamper speech, especially online. One law specifically takes aim at the nebulous concept of "fake news," specifically punishing any online material that "exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia." In other words, Russia wants to ban criticism of Putin and his corrupt government, with experts telling the Washington Post that the updated law effectively removes the pesky legal system from what was already a fairly draconian system:

"Prosecutors can direct their complaints about online media to the state, which can block access to websites if the offending material isn’t taken down.

This, experts say, is new. “The Prosecutor’s office may now block such fake news sources prior to the judicial decision. It gives the Prosecutor’s office an extremely high authority and almost completely eliminates the Russian (albeit completely non-free) courts from the game,” Maria Snegovaya, an adjunct fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, wrote in an email.

“In other words, it significantly expands the repressive power of Russia’s repressive apparatus. This may be compared to the Stalin’s Troika, a commission of three for express judgment in the Soviet Union during the time of Joseph Stalin who issued sentences to people after simplified, speedy investigations and without a public and fair trial,” she added.

Websites that now spread "fake news" in Russia (defined as anything that criticizes Putin and his coalition of mobster oligarchs) now suddenly face fines of up to 1.5 million rubles ($22,900) for repeat offenses. Another companion law signed by Putin this week is equally problematic; it would update existing laws to make it a federal offense to insult the Russian government or political leaders. Repeat violators of that law face fines up to 300,000 rubles ($4,700) — and 15 days in jail:

"The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech. The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia."

Both law updates quickly passed through the Russian Parliament in less than two months despite widespread condemnation and a petition of more than 100 journalists and academics lambasting the proposal as ham-fisted authoritarianism. It's an amusing and slightly terrifying escalation from a government busted for pushing buckets of hateful and idiotic disinformation online, yet simultaneously pretending to wage a war against inauthentic news coverage and critical thinking. It's clearly a model Putin hopes to export to numerous countries, not least of which being the already-factually-challenged United States.

Of course while Russia would frame this as a show of strength, it's really a show of fear. This, combined with Russia's efforts to disconnect itself from the internet makes it abundantly clear how afraid the government is of not only free speech, but its own people too. A Russian public that has not only been increasingly protesting these obnoxious internet restrictions, but also the underlying Russian economic problems Putin very clearly doesn't want highlighted online.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: censorship, fake news, free speech, government criticism, internet, russia, vladimir putin


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2019 @ 4:02pm

    Is that a BuzzFeed headline? The world has too much BuzzFeed click-bait content as it is. Dropping projection of what other people are feeling improves this submission.


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.