5 December 2012, 17:44

Viral PSAs strike again

Viral PSAs strike again
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Remember I mentioned obscene billboards which went viral and were actually supported by the general population? In the past couple of months two PSAs with a pretty gritty subject matter, and, what’s more important, swearwords hit the Russian blogosphere like a ton of bricks.

Remember I mentioned obscene billboards which went viral and were actually supported by the general population? In the past couple of months two PSAs with a pretty gritty subject matter, and, what’s more important, swearwords hit the Russian blogosphere like a ton of bricks. They were signed by official governmental bodies, but, of course, no one believed it really was the government who decided to go a little over the PG-13 threshold. A few days ago a so-called “Art group P” came forward, said they were responsible for the billboards and promised more to come. Here’s their manifesto: quote “We’re tired of seeing how our fellow citizens die, our cities are destroyed and the ecology deteriorates while helpless ‘creative types’ with their public service announcements and million-ruble budgets cannot change anything. That’s why we’ve taken the matters into our hands and will not stop until we achieve a noticeable result. “unquote. A couple of days ago they were more on the obscure side with 100-something followers – now they have over 300. So the user interest is there- but are these guys actually doing anything? Turns out, yes. By the way, doesn’t really matter what the billboard’s message says, anyone putting something on one without coordinating it with the billboard’s owner is breaking the law – so keep that in mind. Despite promises made by Moscow officials to catch the culprits who were basically defacing private property, these guys went ahead and launched a new one, this time aimed at horrendous traffic. Of course, it did have an obscene word on it – although quite a light one in the wide spectrum of the Russian language. This one had a photo of a one year old boy and a message that he has died in an ambulance which had to wait for an hour in heavy traffic without other drivers allowing it to pass. Whereas the second “billboard-bombing”, if you will, happened in about a month of the first one, the third one came about a week later – so these guys are really pickup up the pace, it seems. Thanks to their active Twitter feed, I found out that the billboard was installed on a Moscow highway around 1am December fifth. In a couple of hours the has been picked up by a popular blogger Rustem Adagamov, who really gave it a viral push – the Tweet was then forwarded by the infamous Alex Navalny – that’s collectively 380,000 followers right there. I believe there is a problem with such awareness, though. If anyone can follow these actions and these actions are illegal – well, there’s only so much time before the authorities will catch you by just monitoring your live feed. Just my two cents. So, I leave it up to you, the listener, to make the judgment for now – is it okay to deface private property in the form of billboards in order to bring attention to some of the burning issues? But for now, let’s move on.

How about everyone’s favorite topic – the Russian blacklists? The governmental agency responsible for it decided to go for some quality control – sure, after a month of less than perfect operation, this seems like the thing to do. Anyway, Roskomnadzor now plans to survey Russians to try to figure out how effectively they’re implementing the blacklist law. This poll is supposed to have results ready within one week – hopefully the speed won’t reflect poorly on the quality. They are outsourcing it, thankfully – the Public Opinion Foundation will be the organization doing the actual polling.

By the way, this will not be the first poll of its kind. The All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center, another pollster, has asked Russians how they felt about internet blacklists – although the question related to “international blacklist” – an idea Russian officials were toying with before adopting the local law and probably one they were planning on voicing on the ITU session which is currently in full swing. Anyway, according to this report, a whopping 73% of Russians supported this notion; only 9% were against this idea. 84% of respondents supported banning texts and videos with swearwords from being accessed through the internet. Really? Maybe it’s a demographic thing, I don’t know- I’m pretty sure if I have conducted this poll among in my social circles, the results would be absolutely opposite. Anyway, that’s one poll. The next one, was conducted by yet another pollster, Levada Center, right before the blacklist law came into force – this October. This survey dealt with the local part of the internet and, oddly enough, it had less supporters that the previous poll. 63% of Russians supported blacklists – still more that what I personally feel really do support the law. 65% agreed with a slightly more liberal sounding phrase “regulating access of adolescents to the world wide web”. So there you have it. As you can see, currently either most vocal people don’t like the law or the majority has changed their stance – Roskomnadzor feels more comfortable readjusting their stance on regulation, I guess.

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The plans to ‘go social’ were announced by Roskomnadzor’s spokesman Vladimir Pikov during a roundtable over at RIA News. According to Pikov, during the first month of the blacklist’s operation (which was launched November 1st), his agency has received around 19,000 submissions through the crowdsourcing website – in other words, users wanted the agency to check whether 19,000 websites were illegal under the new law. Of course, not all of them were – most of them had nothing to do with any sort of prohibited information. Pikov highlighted this as well: quote “We had a bunch of weird submissions which had no relation to child pornography, suicides or drugs. Regardless, we have processed all submissions” unquote. According to latest stats, of these 19,000 only 640 websites were eventually blacklisted. It appears that the system for making judgment calls was created spontaneously – Roskomnadzor maintains the blacklist proper and calls whether a website has child pornography or not. For other cases – drug and suicide advocacy – it sends over requests to the Federal Drug Control Service and Rospotrebnadzor respectively. So, Roskomnadzor has banned 146 websites; Rospotrebnadzor – 216 and the Anti-Drug agency – 279 websites – we have a winner! 250 previously-blacklisted sites were then cleared – I guess they’ve removed offending media.

Most of these websites are banned through their URL – Uniform Resource Locator, or the actual text that sits there in the address bar of one’s browser. 82 of the total of 640 also had their IP addresses banned. This means that Russian Internet service providers need to block access of their users to these addresses. And already you can see this is confusing. So if a website is in the blacklist, but its IP has not been added, that means it’s not really in the blacklist? It is like a pre-ban? Why don’t they make it a separate list, like a “pandemonium” and the actual blacklist – I mean, this just spreads confusion, what with the websites jumping back and forth in the list. Anyway, I guess I’m just rambling here. By the way – these 19,000 websites submitted for review? Well, maybe it’s not the maximum monthly volume – activists from the NGO which initially wanted to manage blacklists, the Russian League for Internet Safety, well, they’re pressing Roskomnadzor in creating a way to submit several websites for review – currently you can enter just one web address and enter the so-called CAPTCHA – "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart". As you can guess, it’s a hassle. According to the League’s Executive Director, their proposals along with the results of the poll will be discussed during a expert council session of the League – after that the proposals will be sent in to governmental bodies.

 

I’d like to remind you that a lot of internet companies expressed their concern the blacklist law would ‘break’ the free internet – for instance, some of the websites hosting information for academic purposes could, in theory, qualify for a ban. That’s, for example, what happened to three quite large websites – Librusek, an e-library, RuTracker, a BitTorrent tracker website . They all had information which was deemed illegal and thus they were technically “blacklisted”, but then were removed from the list – I’ve already explained the confusion of the terms, but you get the picture. Wikipedia, surprisingly, also has similar information regarding, say, drugs and suicides – for example, it lists the methods of committing suicide, but, unlike other websites, it did not get on the list. If I had to make a guess, Roskomnadzor just decides to play it safe with the Russian internet crowd and not get on the public’s bad side by taking out the largest free encyclopedia. Although it is a crowdsourced encyclopedia, of course – that means that anyone can edit it any way they see fit. There is a somewhat complicated hierarchy of regular participants, who actually manage the encyclopedia – so most likely really blatantly false and poorly-written articles will get removed; same goes for illegal information – another reason for Roskomnadzor not to target the website.

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