All you ever wanted to know about Russia’s ‘internet sovereignty’ bill

Image by Kirk Lau on Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.

In February 2019, the mainstream media sounded alarm as news of Russia debating an internet ‘kill-switch’ and considering a digital sovereignty strategy spread like wildfire. Can Russia really disconnect from the global internet? And what would that mean for Russian internet users and their digital freedoms, already under threat? I spoke to a number of media outlets about the nuances of the new bill, its feasibility, and what it could mean for the RuNet:

If you are a journalist seeking input on this topic or other Russian internet-related issues, please get in touch!

 

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The trouble with Telegram

If you’re a Russia-watcher, or even Russia-curious, you have likely heard of the Telegram messenger—perhaps you even have a Telegram account. Created in 2013 by internet entrepreneur Pavel Durov, the founder of Russia’s most-popular social network, VKontakte (VK), Telegram has gained a cult following and a loyal fan base in Russia and beyond. As of March 2018, Telegram had over 200 million active monthly users. What makes this messenger service so newsworthy and attractive? And what is its current status in Russia? Is there more to what happens on Telegram than mere encrypted chatting and daily doses of political gossip?

To explain why Telegram is so central to the Russian online experience, I wrote an explainer for PONARS Eurasia’s Point & Counterpoint project.

Shrouded in its self-made mythology of security and privacy, Telegram offers a level playing-field to all kinds of actors in Russia, creating a portable private-public sphere where anyone can be anonymous and yet be the darling of thousands of users hungry for every new disclosure and morsel of opinion.

Read the whole piece on the peculiar role of Telegram in Russia’s networked public sphere on the PONARS website.

 

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New article in Surveillance & Society

I have a new article in the great special issue of Surveillance & Society on “Surveillance in Post-Communist Societies,” guest edited by by Ola Svenonius and Fredrika Björklund. My piece, “Be Safe or Be Seen? How Russian Activists Negotiate Visibility and Security in Online Resistance Practices,” ethnographically examines how activists in Russia manage surveillance, security and visibility concerns online. Download the open access PDF here.

…the paper traces connections between everyday security practices that these activists engage in online and the resistance tactics and repertoires they enact in an environment where the free and open exchange of information on the Russian internet is becoming increasingly difficult. The analysis finds that Russian opposition activists place a high value on digital, media, and security literacy and that navigating the internet using security tools and protocols such as VPN, two-phase authentication, and encrypted messaging is increasingly seen as the default modus operandi for those participating in organised dissent in Russia to mitigate growing state surveillance. Furthermore, the analysis reveals that Russian activists have to balance the need for security with growing visibility—a key factor for entering the mainstream political and social discourse.

Read all of the excellent contributions to the issue (it’s open access, too!).

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Ukraine’s Euromaidan, Urban Murals and Instagram’s Networked Publics

Image edited from Geo Leros’ photo. Original photograph: http://kyivmural.com/en/mural/113.

If you’re into urban media, street art and protests, read my new article, ‘Urban Murals and the Post-Protest Imagery of Networked Publics: The Remediated Aftermath of Ukraine’s Euromaidan on Instagram’, out now in WiderScreen journal.

In modern hyper-mediated urban environments, public art becomes an inseparable part of the multiplicity of meanings generated by citizens with regards to their city, their country and each other. What meanings can public art convey after a protest in a mediated city? And how do social media users capture and reflect on these visual artefacts? This article focuses on the urban murals that appeared in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital in the post-Euromaidan period (spring 2014 – present day). The creation of murals began as a spontaneous urban practice, but post-protest, morphed into a concerted effort to populate blank walls of decaying apartment blocks around cities with meaningful art, reflecting on the turbulent political, social and cultural changes in the country. The article considers how this mediated public art form resonates with the networked post-protest publics through the affordances of Instagram and explores the different kinds of meanings networked publics in and around the post-protest city can produce. It focuses on how the mediation of the murals on Instagram might reflect or frame the meanings embedded in the murals themselves and how these themes might fit into the broader metaphorical narrative of rebirth and regeneration in the post-Euromaidan city of Kyiv.

While you’re at it, read the whole special issue of WiderScreen on ‘City Imaginings and Urban Everyday Life’, it’s pretty great.

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Telegram Ban and Internet Freedom in Russia

I did an in-depth interview with Slate‘s Future Tense about the banning of Telegram messenger in Russia and the ensuing chaos after state censors blocked millions of IP-addresses in an attempt to prevent Telegram’s circumvention of the ban, severely damaging the RuNet’s health in the process. I discuss the messenger’s role in Russians’ online lives and the broader implications of the Kremlin’s crackdown on encrypted communications:

This decision banning Telegram is also threatening other similar platforms that protect communications with end-to-end encryption. We’re talking about Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and potentially any other encrypted communication services. All of those could also be banned in Russia using the same principles. Telegram sets a precedent here.

And if that were the case, then that really narrows down the space for private and secure communications. If you aren’t sure that your communications are encrypted, or whether the encryption keys have been shared, that basically means there is very little space for privacy and security for Russian users on the internet. That’s ultimately the danger: It’s not just one platform, it’s the whole principle of encrypted communication that’s under threat.

Read the whole interview here!

 

 

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New article in Information, Communication & Society

I’ve got a new article out in the AoIR 2017 special issue of Information, Communication & Society.

My article, #IAmNotAfraidToSayIt: stories of sexual violence as everyday political speech on Facebook, focuses on how affective networked publics on Facebook can support feminist activism through the medium of narratives about bodies and gendered power dynamics (if you’d like a free eprint, use this link – I’ll also upload an Accepted draft version to this website soon).

The special issue, titled Networked (in)justice and edited by Alison Harvey and Koen Leurs, features some of research presented at the AoIR 2017 Networked Publics conference in Tartu, Estonia. As the editors say,

This special issue is pleased to share the emphasis on the diverging and contradictory consequences of the formation of networked publics. We have chosen to focus in particular on studies of publics that scrutinize how they may exacerbate injustices or work towards social justice.

We propose a focus on networked (in)justice drawing attention to:

How mainstream scholarly conceptualizations of publics and platforms prioritize some networked publics and marginalize others

How networked publics are shaped as an assemblage of hardware, design, algorithms, discourse, bodies, collectives, and affect

How networked publics reflect and shape intersecting power relations of geography, gender, race, and sexuality, among others

How networked publics are distinctively local, but simultaneously shaped by transnational and global dynamics.

The special issue in its entirety is available here.

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New Book Review Up!

My review of Ellen Mickiewicz’ excellent book No Illusions: The Voices of Russia’s Future Leaders for Digital Icons is up on the DI website. The book offers a very valuable, in-depth and intimate look into the lives of Russia’s young elites amid the political, social and cultural turmoil in the country and in the world. Mickiewicz is one of the top Russian scholars, and the book is yet more evidence of her expertise.

The spring and summer of 2017 saw a new wave of protests in Russia. Compared to the 2012 discontent, these protests had a broader set of claims and a greater reach, with over 100 cities joining Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Observers have also noted the visible and vocal presence of younger Russians, including students and school pupils. Although they were not a majority, these youths appeared on front-pages and in interviews, becoming the face of the dissent. Should we be surprised? Do we know what the young Russians are doing and saying in the space between social networks and city streets?

Read more of my thoughts and critiques of the book’s contribution here!

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New article on public networked discourses in the Ukraine-Russia conflict

My new article ‘Public Networked Discourses in the Ukraine-Russia Conflict: ‘Patriotic Hackers’ and Digital Populism’ for Irish Studies in International Affairs has been published online and is now available on JSTOR. This article is based on a paper I presented at the annual conference of the International Affairs Standing Committee of the Royal Irish Academy, titled ‘Retreat from Globalisation? Brexit, Trump and the New Populism’, which took place at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin on 31 May 2017.

The study explores the self-presentation and online discursive practices of grassroots hacker collectives on both sides of the Ukraine-Russia conflict within a larger geopolitical climate of a contested globalisation agenda and a growing fear of cyber warfare. Both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian hacker groups engage in DDoS attacks, malware distribution and leaking stolen information from the opposing side. They also use social media to enter the broader political discourse around the conflict. The article analyses the Twitter posts of both collectives to reveal key modes of online practices and key discursive themes in the context of the conflict, such as political activism, information warfare, hacker ethics and patriotism. The study elucidates how these groups use their social media presence to construct a ‘patriotic hacker’ identity for themselves, to delegitimise their opponents and ultimately, to connect to the broader populist discourse, where issues of patriotism, sovereignty and nationhood are contested.

Read the whole article here.

 

 

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BBC Radio 4 Doc on Protests

I recently contributed to Long Road to Change, a great BBC Radio 4 documentary on the history of protests questioning the role of technology and other factors in how dissent might bring about change. Check out the whole piece, featuring many thoughtful voices, on the BBC website here.

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