As Vladimir Putin hints that he will crack down on social media, Rob Buchanan believes we’re facing into an Information Cold War. But the Russian leader is also showing a chink in his armour.
Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin has made his strongest hint yet that the Internet, and in particular social media, will suffer even more severe censorship as he continues to tighten his stranglehold on all voices of opposition.
Putin has called the Internet “a CIA project”, and whether this criticism is partially true or not, the intentions behind the statement are obvious. It seems the Kremlin is building to an Information Cold War.
The blanket ban on “homosexual propaganda” was the opening gambit in this war, and precursors for forthcoming restrictions on social media can be seen with some curious sackings and appointments across the whole spectrum of Russian print and broadcast media. Putin has placed his henchmen in prominent positions of influence.
For example Dmitry “burn gay people’s hearts” Kiselev was handpicked by Putin to become deputy director of Russian state TV holding company VGTRK. Even the Moscow Times consider Kiselev to be “Russia’s new Chief Propagandist”. Putin’s confidants also control VKontakte, Russia’s most popular social media network, in order to further circumscribe the supposedly borderless domain of cyberspace The Duma, Russia’s parliament, has just passed a law requiring social media websites to keep their servers in Russia.
Government broadcasters, the only source of information for most Russians, are churning out a variety of ‘newspeak’ that would make a North Korean blush. They propagate the thought-terminating propaganda that to be liberal or critical of the regime is equal to being Western, and in Russia, Western has become another word for evil.
The Internet is Western. Homosexuality is Western.
Putin is also censoring opposition voices by barring them from national television. So, the Internet is the only outlet for voices of dissent. And as such, it’s the Russian leader’s Achilles Heel.
Putin’s regime is built upon the control of information and the ignorance of his people. But his sphere of censorship does not extend to the Russian-speaking Diaspora around the world. Localised lies and disprovable misreporting don’t hold water outside Russia’s arguably constantly expanding border.
The Russian people have historically been subjected to the Orwellian phenomena of doublethink, where they had to present a façade of satisfaction with their poverty, while trust in propaganda and staying loyal to the regime. But they have also historically shown that they will only tolerate so much before they topple their oppressors. In this regard, Putin is afraid of the Internet, and well he should be. It is a weapon he cannot outman, and denouncing the Internet is like a neon sign telegraphing a large chink in the great bear’s armour.
Putin has an enemy that none of his predecessors had to contend with. 21st century technology makes it almost impossible to whitewash corruption, to enforce a blackout on embarrassing current affairs, or to silence dissent while spreading propaganda. In order to maintain a strong position on the world stage, Putin needs to balance having a tech savvy workforce with all the access to critical thinking and reportage this entails. No matter what restrictions or surveillance Putin puts in place, the Internet will be exploited by opposition voices within Russia, but it will also be exploited by the gay teenagers in their bedrooms, by the frustrated medical workers, teachers and academics in their offices.
Social media has proven the downfall of a half dozen regimes in the past decade. It is a new weapon of against dictatorship and mass corruption, and the red button is in the hand of every citizen with a Smartphone.
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