The evolving situation in Eastern Ukraine and Russia has created a lot of uncertainty for business owners and marketers who deal in international trade. As the U.S. and Europe approve more sanctions against Russia, it appears Russia is tightening controls over the media and internet in it’s country. A Russian law that went into effect August 1st may have serious implications for bloggers with Russian audiences and for social media sites in the country. World politics isn’t a subject discussed often on Web Marketing Pros, but since this new law has huge effects on internet marketing in Russia, it is something that needs to be considered.
For Russian bloggers, the law requires blogs with more than 3,000 daily readers to register with the mass media regulator, Roskomnadzor, as well as conform to the regulations that govern the country’s larger media outlets. Bloggers can no longer remain anonymous and the Russian government must have access to all of the bloggers information. In practical terms, it would severely limit a blogger’s ability to speak freely in Russia.
Social media sites were also given strict new rules under the new law. Social networks must keep six months worth of data stored on their users and that data must be stored on servers on Russian soil, so the government can access it. Most social networks store already store that much data but it’s stored in America servers, which means that without a U.S. court order, companies aren’t required to give it to other countries.
“The aim of this law is to create… (another) quasi-legal pretext to close Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all other services,” internet expert and blogger Anton Nossik told Reuters news agency according to the BBC. “The ultimate goal is to shut mouths, enforce censorship in the country and shape a situation where internet business would not be able to exist and function properly.”
Many Russian bloggers are already working to find ways around the restrictions. According to the BBC, many have already started learning how to use proxy networks to get to sites that may ultimately be restricted. Others have found “ways to ‘cheat’ the feature that counts page visits and keep their daily unique visitor numbers just under 3000, or to make sure that the statistics are hidden altogether.”
Though the law is officially in action, it’s not clear if the Russian government will follow through with their threats about social networks who don’t store data in Russia. As has been mentioned many times on this site, people really like social media, and it’s not clear how much unpopularity the Russian government can stomach before Putin finds himself with a credible challenger in the next election.
“The issue of banning all these platforms in Russia is a political one and it will be decided by only one person”, Anton Nossik wrote on his LiveJournal, most likely referring to President Vladimir Putin as the “one person”.
Sadly, these new measures may be the precursor of far more draconian changes down the road. According to reports from early July, the Russian government was working to pass another bill that would ban all sites that didn’t store data on Russian soil. This would ultimately give Russia the ability to create an insular version of the internet where they could monitor all activity and restrict access to content they found undesirable.
“The effects of the bill, if passed, would be wide-ranging, touching just about every international service used by Russians,” wrote Mike Butcher in an article on TechCrunch. “Essentially, it would mean that Facebook, Google or any other international online service — including apps — used by people in Russia would need to have physical servers inside Russia’s borders.”
This is an evolving situation and it’s not clear how far Russia will go with enforcement or how far foreign internet firms are willing to go to keep their business in Russia. International marketers need to pay attention to these changes to no how it may affect their business.