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Russia To Expand Internet Blacklist Russia plans to clean up the Internet. Better put - to bring a semblance of order to the chaos that currently rules the Internet in the former Soviet Union.

Pending approval from President Vladimir Putin later this year, on July 11th, the Russian State Duma approved a law a new law that will broaden the criteria for websites that the government may censor or blacklist. This includes sites that promote childhood pornography, suicide, drug abuse and extremist and dangerous material, as well as content deemed to be promoting illegal activity in the Russian Federation.

However, the international community has not been supportive of this new law. The New York Times reported that critics said the law could quickly lead to repression of speech. Wikipedia shut down its Russian site for a day in protest warning that the legislation would create a China-like firewall, which allows the government to filter Internet content. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a statement condemning Russia for passing a bill that would allow the government to blacklist certain websites.

Contrary to mass media reports, this author contends that the law is good. Some people even suggest it should be expanded in the foreseeable future to reduce crimes committed in the public arena that is the Internet. For instance, the publication of false and misleading accusations against individuals which currently continues unchecked, especially within the Russian social media. Many times the claims are nothing but fabricated dirt aimed to discredit or dishonour the intended target. Presently, there is no consequence to the authors and publishers of defamatory and false information spread via the Internet. Perhaps this new legislation will begin to bring a semblance of integrity to what is disseminated via the Internet in Russia.

There are many examples of the damage inflicted from lies and misinformation published on the Internet. A recent case that most people are familiar with is that of Sergei Magnitsky. We all have


read of the tragic consequences. The Internet played a significant, if not a principal role, in the defamation and destruction of Magnitsky. Russian officials used the Internet as a weapon against Magnitsky and that weapon sent him to prison, which ultimately resulted in his death. Using the Internet to disseminate a twisted version of this tragic incident, the world-wide-web transformed a tax fraud case into a mafia bestseller.

Until now, in the social media and throughout the Internet, one can easily read biased and paid articles that twist and distort the truth. The paradox in the Magnitsky case is the fact that the media who acted as the servants of the orchestrated smear campaign against Magnitsky have now turned on their handlers and with the same expressive aggression commiserate on his fate, and pin accusations upon the Russian authorities.

While the Internet serves a vital public service, it has also been used in Russia to perpetrate and spread insidious and malicious lies – often resulting in false charges, imprisonment – and in the case of Magnitsky, death. However, no matter how wild and false the claim, the Internet does not blush! A popular myth that lives on the Internet is the existence of a modern day Al Capone in the form of successful businessman Boris Birshtein.

The character assassination of Birshtein began with a brief article in an Israeli newspaper, bought and paid for by a competitor, which was immediately published on the Internet and took on a life of its own.

In the mid-nineties, Boris Birshtein, a well-known businessman and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the joint-stock company Ukraine, held a Board meeting in Tel Aviv. Prior to that, similar meetings had been held in other parts of the world. However, through lies and media manipulation, this meeting was alleged to have sinister undertones and a run of the mill Board meeting was construed to be something else entirely. The meeting included Birshtein’s Board of Directors and a number of the directors of the Ukrainian plants belonging to the joint-stock company from Dneprodzerzhinsk, Cherkassy, Horlivka, Severodonetsk and other cities, as well as a number of directors of Ukrainian


industrial departments. After a busy day of meetings, the group dined together in a restaurant. Unbeknownst to Birshtein, dining at the same restaurant, and invited by an individual bent on destroying him, were a number of individuals who were purported to have ties to the Russian mafia. Few people noticed the other restaurant guests, and Birshtein’s dinner party continued peacefully and without incident.

However, the atmosphere of a meeting of the Board of Directors held the next day was broken by a small article that appeared in an Israeli newspaper. According to the article, it was reported that the meeting the prior day was not the meeting of the Board of Directors but the gathering of the Russian mafia, allegedly organized by the respected businessman Boris Birshtein.

The false and libelous story of Boris Birshtein as a mafia mastermind gained traction on the Internet and twenty years later is still being used to discredit him. However, the allegations were nothing more than a plan to assassinate his character and reputation to gain a business advantage. A plan that, unfortunately, succeeded.

A few months after a vicious media campaign began against Boris Birshtein, control of his successful company was wrenched from him, and not coincidentally, put in the hands of an unscrupulous individual whom, it was later learned, planted the false stories and who had argued his position for corporate control saying that a lot of noise on the Internet had been associated with Birshtein’s name recently. The print and electronic media were manipulated and used to destroy the credibility of Birshtein and put his lucrative company in the hands of the very individual who had invited the socalled unsavory individuals to dine at the restaurant in the first place!

It is just like the old Russian joke about a coat. A married couple visited a theater. While at the theatre, someone stole the wife’s coat. Her husband called the police and reported the theft and afterward complained to his colleagues about the incident. After the incident, many years passed, during which time the husband was periodically demoted at work and repeatedly given salary cuts. An aspiring career was cut short. Finally, at retirement, he asked his former boss why he had been


persecuted. His boss replied saying “Now I can reveal the secret to you. Years ago, you had some trouble with your wife’s coat. It was either stolen from you, or perhaps you stole it. I do not know and, now, I do not remember. However, there were whispers and rumors and I decided, just to be on the safe side, to distance myself from you and promote others in your place." The moral: regardless of the truth that his wife’s coat was stolen, through whispers of half-truths and lies, an honest man was punished for something he did not do.

Many people write about the impunity of actions on the Internet nowadays. For example, a representative of the Russian government in the Constitutional Court recently spoke about this very issue “The Internet is a public space, just as television and radio. However, the legal and criminal actions taken for crimes committed on the Internet are almost nonexistent.”

Our society is not yet accustomed to the dangerous tool called the Internet, and people often trust to what is available on the web without regard for its truth or veracity.

We are not calling for censorship. But we want to believe that crimes perpetrated against persons on the Internet will be stopped some day with the help of new laws such as this that will blacklist certain sites and hold publishers of content accountable.

We all struggle for and advocate freedom of speech and of the press. However, it is our hope that with the new legislation in Russia, the Internet, a wonderful product of human genius, will no longer serve as a weapon to spread lies and misinformation annihilating human rights.

Currently the perpetrators of Internet based vendettas and malicious media campaigns hide behind the shadow of anonymity, reporting lies and half-truths without consequence. A new day is dawning on the Russian Internet, and we applaud such courageous legislation.


Russia To Expand Internet Blacklist  

Russia plans to clean up the Internet. Better put - to bring a semblance of order to the chaos that currently rules the Internet in the for...

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