The meteoric rise of social media in Russia has evolved in spite of a state-controlled media and growing restrictions on Web-based news outlets. While it appears that the Russian government has acknowledged the role social media plays in the global community, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev continues to call for greater regulation of the Internet, as evidenced by his recent LiveJournal blog post:
“The Internet should not be an environment dominated by rules set by one country alone, even the strongest and most advanced country. There should be international rules drawn up through collective effort, and the worldwide web should continue to develop as it has done so far – as a common environment. Only this way can we counter terrorism, xenophobia, and other unlawful activity on the Web.”
Medvedev’s statement subtly positions his administration against the idea of a common environment of shared ideas; drawing up “international rules” to moderate the Internet would, in the end, quash its intended purpose.
Alexander Torshin, the vice-speaker of Russia’s Federation Council in 2008, went a step further by claiming that the Internet is “a means of terror propaganda that can be considered the academy of terrorism.”
Government critics believe the censorship debate began with Medvedev’s predecessor, Vladimir Putin. In 2008, the Russian Duma passed a law blocking any Web site deemed to “have hosted extremist material.” News outlets cited an anonymous government source who said that the legislation was related to an article published in the Moskovsky Korrespondent — the newspaper claimed Putin had divorced his wife in order to marry a woman nearly half his age.
The Moskovsky Korrespondent has since closed for “financial reasons.”
The Centre of Journalism in Extreme Situations has also reported cases where blogs and news Web sites belonging to government opposition groups have shuttered after having been labeled “extremist.”
Government leaders’ perceptions of the Internet and social media in particular have tremendous implications for brands wanting to use these channels to reach audiences in the Russian market. Corporate blog posts must maintain a culturally sensitive tone and bloggers must be careful not to question the government’s authority in a manner that might be considered controversial. Those responsible for monitoring blog comments or moderating discussion boards must vigilantly edit posts that may be deemed “extremist” by government censors.
Ultimately, corporations’ social media initiatives must remain product-focused and politically and socially neutral. Violations of these unique principles could potentially jeopardize a corporation’s ability to cultivate a brand and expand market share within Russia.