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Why Russian people need tech companies to stay


On March 1, 2022, people gathered in Saint-Petersburg to protest war crimes.

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Businesses are being affected by economic sanctions imposed by Europe and the U.S. on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. McDonald’sYou can find more information here Starbucks shut down operationsTech platforms in this country must be weighed more complicatedly.

Unlike certain sanctions or business closures made to primarily hurt the Russian regime, limiting access to tech platforms — whether by force or choice — could have massive effects on the Russian people and their ability to access reliable information that contradicts the Kremlin “special military operation” narrative.

Joanna Szostek is a University of Glasgow political communication lecturer. She said that tech companies were different than other Russian companies because they have an interest in keeping them there. While she praised Western businesses in other sectors for importing goods and services to Russia, she said that it is not the same with search engines and social media.

The tech sector is now facing an entirely new form of its fundamental problem. It must balance the risks of spreading disinformation and connecting different parts of the globe.

Some in Ukraine are calling on tech companies not to provide services to Russia in opposition to the war. However, internet freedom experts and Russian censorship specialists say that such an action may prove counterproductive. Platforms may need to consider taking calculated risks to continue their services within Russia in order for truth to prevail, experts state.

Szostek stated that he believes there is a strong argument for doing everything to ensure they are available for as much time as possible. And if it means that we can still do business with Russia, then so be it. The idea that Russia is completely trapped behind a wall and no information can get through to it, I think, is quite frightening.

A delicate balance

Russia is tightening its web control. Meta-owned Facebook was blocked and Twitter restricted by the authorities.

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Russian tech platforms are facing a dual-edged sword.

One hand companies such as Meta’sFacebook and Instagram Twitter Google’s YouTubeDo not want to serve as a vessel for Kremlin propaganda. However, the loss of their services can leave an information vacuum that will be filled likely by disinformation coming from the Russian government or state-owned media.

This is a continuation of the question these companies have been trying to answer over the past several decades. Does the free, fast-spreading information they offer outweigh any risks?

Throughout the Pandemic, during democratic elections, social unrest and other times when the question was relevant, the same question haunted companies.

The conflict also highlights how important social media access and online access are in the face of oppressive regimes. While platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are not allowed to operate in China’s Great Firewall area, they do exist in Russia.

It’s possible. their restriction by the Russian governmentIt is significant as these platforms allowed Russians access to the truth.

Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation has called repeatedly on top tech companies to stop doing business in Russia. Top executives have pleaded with him. Amazon, Google, MicrosoftOthers to stop providing services to Russia in order to isolate Russia from digital majors.

In February, Nick Clegg (Meta’s president for global affairs), tweeted that the Ukrainians had also requested we block access to Facebook in Russia. However, Russians are still using FB/IG to organize and protest against war as well as for independent information.

“We think that shutting down our services would silence significant expression during a critical time,” he said.

Some Western service providers have responded to calls to close down Russian operations or blamed ongoing risks for scaling down. Lumen, and Cogent in the United States are both internet providers. cut service to RussiaIn the aftermath of war, they cited security concerns and sanctions. Amazon Web Services stated that it will block any new Russian sign-ups. Other companies include AppleGoogle also stated they were stopping sales of the products in the country.

Experts on Russia’s internet landscape and advocates for freedom of the web warn that some shut downs may be counterproductive. They could cut off access to truthful information, which could fuel opposition to Putin.

In the following: letterMany civil society groups warned that Russia should not be cut off from the internet. The civil society groups asked for the Office of Foreign Assets Control, Treasury Department to explicitly inform software and communication providers that they won’t violate sanctions by continuing service in Russia. This could be done by issuing an “all-purpose license”. Some voluntary cuts in internet service to Russia may be motivated by a desire to circumvent sanctions.

These groups wrote that restricting access for Russian citizens to the internet in a too broad way would isolate and further isolate anti-war and pro-democracy groups and journalists. They also impede the ability of human rights organizations, journalists and lawyers inside and outside Russia, to give critical information to Russian citizens on current events and their rights. These actions could inadvertently accelerate what the Kremlin wants to accomplish through its “sovereign Internet” tools, namely a total and complete control over information space within Russia.

Adrian Shahbaz is the director of technology, democracy and non-partisan advocacy group Freedom House. He signed the letter saying that tech platforms must decide on how they handle the balance. This should be done “on an individual basis in consultation with civil society experts.” According to Shahbaz, tech platforms need to understand the consequences of their actions for human rights.

Shahbaz stated that tech companies need to consider how they can comply with requests from the government if it is essential for maintaining services in the country. If a platform requests to remove a specific post, it might only do so from this jurisdiction. However, the information could still be available via virtual private networks.

Andrew Sullivan is the CEO of the non-profit Internet Society. He said he was skeptical about any restrictions placed on the internet. However, he warned that people with the resources can often find ways to circumvent such limitations.

He said, “That’s always the risk. But it’s really dangerous with the internet because there are advantages already in favor of those who have control.”

Meta, which is the operator of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and other internet services has pledged to try to maintain their services in Russia. This means that you will have to make tough decisions about the compromises necessary for continued service. According to Meta, Russian censors blocked Facebook and Instagram after Meta refused to label state-owned media.

Yevgeniy Glovchenko from the University of Copenhagen, who is a researcher on disinformation and censorship said that Facebook would not be banned immediately if Russian authorities stopped fact-checking Russian media. But the real question is: now that the Russian government has shown that they are able to push Western media into doing what Russian authorities demand, what’s the next request?

Golovchenko sees the opposite outcome if Western social networks disappear completely from Russia. According to the optimistic perspective, Russians would see mass exodus as an indication that something is not right and they need to dig deeper into events outside of their country. It could also further strengthen Russian state-owned TV channels, from which many Russians get their news.

However, some people may find it more advantageous to reduce certain information. Lev Gershenzon was the former news director for Yandex’s Russian search engine Yandex. publicly called on the company’s current executives to remove or change its top news feature on the home pageIt would not present a simplified version of Ukraine’s conflict. He said that executives shouldn’t be able to change its content. It would be more effective than leaving it in place.

He said that he was certain that there is no better information than any information when dealing with this particular situation. If tens or millions of users suddenly noticed that the news block was missing from their main portal page, they might start to ask questions.

Russia’s history of censorship

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a meeting in Moscow with members of the Russian government via videolink on March 10, 2022.

Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik | Reuters

Since years, the Russian government has worked to prepare for an even more severe crackdown on online platforms. It doesn’t, however, have the same infrastructure as China that would allow for a rapid clampdown.

The Internet Society’s Sullivan said that “technically it is very, very similar” to the other internet parts, while China is different. He said that Russia can block certain areas of the internet more technically because it is harder to do so.

Russia doesn’t have enough alternatives to popular messaging and social media services. This could explain why it continues to permit access to Google’s YouTube and Meta’s WhatsApp, but restricts Facebook.

Marielle Wijermars is an assistant professor at Maastricht University. She says there are two factors that make it hard for the Russian government not to ban some popular services. The Russian government makes use of platforms such as YouTube to spread its propaganda. It monitors social media for signs about potentially unrest and sensitive topics.

Wijermars explained that blocking access is a risky move. The government has to believe the benefits will outweigh any risks.

She cited the Russian government’s 2018 decision to ban Telegram. It reversed the move just two years later, after Telegram users discovered that it was possible to bypass the ban. This decision also angered many Russian users. Businesses that use platforms such as Instagram for their sales or marketing could be affected by the ban on other services.

YouTube is among the most popular social media platforms in RussiaThis makes it particularly important that the government does not ban it.

Shahbaz explained that there was a calculated that no leader would want to be responsible for blocking millions of supporters’ access to the tools they use.

Circumvention of censorship

Police officers arrest a woman as she protests against Russian military intervention in Ukraine. It happened in central Saint Petersburg, on the 13th of March 2022.

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Russia’s infrastructure may not be as tightly controlled as China, but there are still many ways around the censorship laws.

There were ten top VPNs available in Apple’s app store in Russia between February 24, and March 8, after Russia invaded Ukraine. saw nearly 6 million downloadsAccording to SensorTower data for CNBC, it is.

The U.S. Congress has introduced two new bills to assist Russia in its efforts to circumvent censorship. This is the Internet Freedom and Operations (INFO) ActIntroduced by Senators. Marsha Blackburn, R. Tenn., and Bob Menendez D.N.J. would authorize funds for internet liberty programs through USAID, the Department of State, and allocate $50 million for Internet freedom and circumvention technologies via the U.S. Agency for Global Media (and affiliates).

This bill is a continuation of the earlier Open Technology Fund Authorization Act by the two, which authorized similar funds for internet freedom support under oppressive regimes. This bill was part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed last year. The authors were not involved in its development. creditedIt was established to help Cubans get online and organise themselves after their government blocked internet access.

Blackburn spoke by phone with CNBC to say that most Cubans found their links through VPNs or word-of-mouth. While there are always risks in using restricted technology or speaking out, she said that the majority of Cubans would take these risks in order to have a shot at freedom.

Wijermars stated that it was possible for Russians to use VPNs to gain access to foreign information, but not all of them.

According to her, “The small group already being interested in this type of news and that was also critical of the government was already consuming independent news sources. To continue to consume those news sources they will require a VPN.” But it does not necessarily mean that all of Russia is suddenly learning about it.

Putin has been moving Russia towards isolation over the years. Wijermars claimed that current conflicts have only intensified internet trends within the region.

Shahbaz expressed his hope that international companies and democratic governments don’t accidentally speed up that process.

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