Cablegate: Blogging in Russia

DE RUEHMO #4067/01 2330850
R 210850Z AUG 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (SBU) Summary: Blogs are the fastest-growing and least
constrained mass media in Russia. The popularity of blogs has
increased exponentially in Russia as the internet has become more
accessible, especially among people in their 20s and 30s. Although
most Russian blogs do not deal with political matters, they still
represent an important social phenomenon and provide an independent
medium and a barometer for free speech. The GOR has not yet
determined how to address the political challenge emanating from
blogs or the growing extremist and violent hate speech, but efforts
to contain or constrict free expression on the internet are likely
to be ineffective. End Summary.

The Russian Blog: A Brief History

2. (SBU) The first Russian blogs appeared on the popular blog server
LiveJournal in 1999. Early on, the predominant users were the
political and intellectual elites, who took advantage of the
internet's freedom to express views that did not appear in the
traditional mass media. According to contacts and bloggers alike,
the blogosphere has maintained an atmosphere that is more liberal
than other forms of mass media. Individual bloggers have joined
into communities and developed developed an entire cyber social
network connecting people with similar interests from dispersed
geographical locations.

3. (SBU) Internet usage in Russia has quadrupled over the past four
years, but overall penetration into Russian society is still low. A
2006 Romir center survey found that only 14 percent of Russian
adults use the internet at least once a week, and only five percent
use it on a daily basis. Additionally, an August 2007 poll by the
Levada Center revealed that 75 percent of Russians do not have a
computer at home.

4. (SBU) Politicians, media, and large corporations have all sought
to capitalize on the popularity of this latest form of mass media.
Norilsk Nickel started a corporate blog to improve the company's
image and "connect with a younger audience" according to Public
Relations Director Sergey Chernitsin. Russian search engine has created a daily list of the thirty most popular blogs,
and online Russian newspapers such as Moskovskiy Komsomolets,
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Kommersant, and Vedomosti, have created
blog-like discussion forums for readers to comment on articles.

5. (SBU) LiveJournal remains the most popular Russian blog server,
and boasts more than one million users and sixty-five thousand
communities. LiveJournal is owned by U.S. Company SixApart, and the
network servers are located in California. When Russian company
Sup-Frabrik purchased the licensing rights to Russian LiveJournal in
2006, many internet freedom advocates here expressed fears that the
government would soon control or close LiveJournal. Despite fears,
Russian LiveJournal and its users have continued to enjoy continued

Meet the Bloggers

6. (SBU) Precise statistics on this dispersed and anonymous group
are difficult to collect. Politicheskiy Zhurnal reported that as of
April 2007, over two million blogs existed in the Russian language -
a 74 percent increase from November 2006. More than half of the
readers of these Russian-language blogs live outside of Russia,
according to Anton Nosik, head of blog services at SUP and a
cyberspace entrepreneur who developed the popular Russian news sites and An April 2007 report, "Status of
the Russian Internet Blogosphere" found that the majority of
bloggers live in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and about one third of
Russian-language blogs are written by bloggers outside of Russia,
including (in decreasing order) Ukraine, the United States, Belarus,
Estonia, and Israel.

7. (SBU) Despite the expansive growth of the blogger community, it
still represents only a small portion of the Russian population, and
this community is much younger, wealthier, and more urban than the
average Russian. A study by the Romir Center found that the
majority of internet users (and therefore bloggers) are from cities
with a population of over five hundred thousand because large cities
have the most access to the internet. The Yandex report claims that
twice as many women as men have created blogs, and describes the
average blogger as a 21-year old female college student in Moscow
who is interested in music, movies, psychology, books and sex.
Nosik said his data shows that the average blogger is a twenty-five
year old male with eighty friends. (Note: "Friends" in blogspeak
are those allowed to read and comment on one's blog, and does not
indicate any sort of personal acquaintance.)

MOSCOW 00004067 002.2 OF 003

Mobilizing the Masses

8. (SBU) Some blogs have been used to organize and mobilize
collective action. In February 2006, a protest against bureaucrats
receiving special traffic privileges (an event organized on the blog
community drew over a thousand protesters in
Siberia. Masha Gaidar, a blogger and leader of the youth movement
DA!, told us that blogs and the liberal radio station Ekho Moskviy
are the only ways to get out announcements and mobilize large groups
of people. Activists on the far-right have also used blogs to
mobilize their followers. Blogs by the ultra-right wing youth
organization, Movement Against Illegal Migration (DPNI), used blogs
to encourage a series of ethnic fights that broke out in Moscow in
June 2007 and to organize the November 2006 Russian March.

First-Hand Sources

9. (SBU) Blogs have provided us greater access to first-hand
accounts of events. For example, during the Nashi summer camp in
July 2007, bloggers were the primary source of information about
Nashi's activities because reporters were not permitted on the camp
premises. One leading blogger and journalist Dmitriy Galkovskiy
considered the communication between bloggers and sheer amount of
information available on blogs to be an invaluable aspect of the
blogosphere. Galkovskiy wrote "people on the internet have learned
to compare information and judge events from different points of
view. Crude government propaganda has little effect."

Politics, Hatred, and Freedom of Speech

10. (SBU) Grigoriy Shvedov of Memorial told us that blogging is
extremely popular in Russia because it is a place of uninhibited
political discussion for people who otherwise "don't have a
political voice." Mariya Gaidar added that she considers blogs to
be important because they provide a "direct line of communication
with the government." She explained that the government regularly
monitors blogs, so that "if you call a minister an idiot, he is
going to know about it." She saw this monitoring in a positive
light because it meant that the government was listening to the
opinions of average Russians. Ilya Yashin, an active blogger and
leader of Youth Yabloko, told us that blogs will become increasingly
important because they are the only place in Russia where people can
discuss things freely.

11. (SBU) This free speech has a disturbingly dark side.
Nationalist and neo-Nazi blogs promote violence against ethnic
minorities and are used to recruit members and broadcast messages.
Beginning on August 14, a video and still photos claiming to show
the execution of two men - a Tajik and a Dagestani - were posted on
several neo-Nazi and nationalist Livejournal blogs. The men, bound
and gagged, were forced to their knees in front of a Nazi banner and
then executed for being "colonists" in Russia; one was shot in the
head, and the other was decapitated. Although some bloggers have
questioned the authenticity of the video, experts on extremism have
pointed to the rapid spread of these gruesome images and the violent
responses encouraging the violence as evidence of the audience for
this movement.

Blogs Under Attack

12. (SBU) Recent court cases have raised questions about the future
of internet freedom for bloggers. In early 2007, Duma Deputy Viktor
Alksnis unsuccessfully sued a blogger for slander. In August 2007,
Duma Deputy Vladimir Medinskiy filed suit against fellow Deputy
Aleksandr Lebedev for attacking Medinskiy's character on his
personal blog. Lebedev did not expect anything to come out of the
case, but he did see the suit as evidence of the government's desire
to wield a greater influence over the internet. Lebedev told the
press that his blog is "the only place in which I can openly give my
opinion, and I place a high value on this."

13. (SBU) Although they reluctantly agreed that the internet remains
independent, NGO representatives Grigoriy Shvedov of Memorial and
Irina Yemshova of the ICNL Alliance both expressed concerns at the
prospect of government regulations on the internet. In 2006, a
Novosibirsk court found that four Chechen websites promoted
extremism and terrorism and ordered a local internet service
provider to stop hosting them. In June 2007, Deputy Prosecutor
General Ivan Sydoruk called for legal controls on the internet
because "practical experience shows that the internet often becomes

MOSCOW 00004067 003.2 OF 003

a medium for spreading extremist ideas." On August 14, a blogger in
Komi Republic was charged with inciting hatred in the mass media for
posting the comment: "Cops and hooligans are one and the same. It
wouldn't be a bad idea if crooked cops were periodically set on fire
[in a local square]."

14. (SBU) A series of recent hacker and DDoS (Distributed Denial of
Service) attacks on websites and blogs have increased concern about
internet freedom. Already this year, DDoS attacks temporarily shut
down the websites of the opposition parties "Other Russia," Yabloko,
and the LDPR; Kommersant newspaper and liberal radio station Ekho
Moskviy; and the blogging sites of political opposition groups DPNI
and the National Bolshevik Party. (A DDoS attack occurs when
thousands of computers attempt to access one website at one time and
overload the server. The attacking computers are usually infected
with a virus and the owners are often not aware that their computers
are part of the attack.) The number of attacks targeting opposition
groups raised speculation in the blogosphere that the government
supported or organized the DDoS attacks.

15. (SBU) Despite the court cases, comments by officials, and DDoS
attacks, political analysts doubted that the Russian government
would take any steps to restrict the internet. In December 2004,
Putin said that he would disapprove of attempts to control the
internet under a law enforcement pretext, adding "Whether one likes
[the criticism of the government] or not, one can learn what people
think." Yuri Korgunick, editor-in-chief of the political website
Partinform, told us that he thought the internet would remain free
because it is too difficult to control. Andrei Richter, Director of
the Moscow Media Law and Policy Institute, agreed, saying that the
government does not have enough resources to monitor blogs and it is
not worth the government's effort to do so. In spite of court cases
and hacker attacks, Gaidar considered blogging "freer than any other
sort of mass media."


16. (SBU) Blogging is becoming an important new measure of political
freedom. Although bloggers are a small portion of the population,
and most blogs are apolitical, they represent an increasingly
relevant media for free expression and a useful yardstick for
evaluating the freedom of the traditional media. Absent a dramatic
reversal of GOR policy and a shift towards PRC-style tactics, the
attempts to control this sphere through ownership, direct government
control, lawsuits, or hacker attacks will likely do more to
highlight the motives and limitations of its opponents than
constrain the activities or views of its users.


© Scoop Media

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