Internet vetoes: narratives silenced by digital conquest, by Liliana Arroyo

We just passed March 12, World Day Against Internet Censorshippromoted by the NGO Reporters Without Borders since 2008. They are bad times for digital freedom of expression. I am disappointed when I look back and think about the Arab springs or even 15M. For a while, we savored an internet that really democratized speakers. The digital terrain is today a restricted space of disinformation battle, where the conquests of mental realities are articulated by silencing or empowering voices. As Renée DiResta (Stanford Internet Observatory specialist) points out, the right to freedom of expression is one thing, quite another the right to broadcast. And for sample, some buttons of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The attention for the first restrictions took center stage when Europe banned Russia Today – one of the most successful on YouTube – and Sputnik, but the view must be put further back. At least until 2012, when the Roskomnadzor (federal service for telecommunications, information technology and media) started the registration of prohibited URLs. At first, it included websites with pornographic content and gambling. Since the February invasion, more than 5,000 entries have been added to that list, many of them from Ukrainian media or anti-invasion Russian websites, such as marketplace. In fact, while I am writing these lines, the server is not working, because the site cannot be accessed from Spain either. It becomes clear that the will is that the Russian population does not have access to the voices on the other side of the border.

In fact, we already knew the longing for weave your own web. In 2019, the Kremlin announced its tests to disconnect from the global internet and develop its own sovereign state network, ‘Runet’, reminiscent of the Chinese model. It is clear that the mastery of communication infrastructures goes through the technological sovereignty, since global dependency at this time is fragile. Not only in times of conflict, but also on a day-to-day basis, when the digital lifeline of most of the connected world lies in just 4 companies. It is very likely that at this time they will curse themselves for not having already put it into practice and accelerate the process of emancipation.

In the meantime, we have the Russian Government limiting access to Facebook and Twitter (since March 4) and Instagram (10 days later), when Meta (Zuckerberg’s company) announced that it would temporarily altered its content moderation policies to allow content contrary to the Russian military and troops. The internal statement, which was leaked by the Reuters agency, clearly indicated that it is an exception to internal policies against hate speech. This novelty surgically applies to 12 countries, namely: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and of course Ukraine. You may have noticed that Belarus is not here, let’s not forget that the 2014 negotiations were held in Minsk.

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At times, the tree covers the forest for us. The selection of countries – by no means arbitrary – is not due to an ideological agenda or a geopolitical strategy. They have probably taken data on the places where the most content has been censored of this type since these moderation policies are applied, to give free rein to anger and thus to the flow of interactions. Meta is not concerned about the parties in conflict or the seams that this can create, she sees the opportunity to take advantage of the confusion to take advantage of it. The war conflict is profitable for the arms industry, the narrative is for social networks.

In the midst of all this, the population seeks bypass bans via VPNs, which essentially allow you to use IP addresses of servers outside the country. According to TOP10VPN, since the invasion began on February 24 and until March 10, the demand for VPNs in Russia has increased by 753%. In Ukraine, the increase was detected from February 15, when some service outages caused by cyberattacks began (without confirming the origin), reaching 609% in early March. Let’s take this emergency digital activism seriouslyWe need, like the air, to flee from silenced, interested speakers, with opaque and changing policies. The digital conquest generates division by default, and neither Putin nor Zelensky are at the helm.

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