President Vladimir Putin has signed a law tightening the Russian government's already strong hold on the internet. Earlier this week, Putin officially passed what's become known as the "bloggers law," which requires popular internet writers to follow rules normally reserved for larger media outlets. Under it, any blogger with more than 3,000 readers is required to register with the Roskomnadzor, Russia's media oversight agency. According to Reporters Without Borders, the law covers not only traditional blogs but microblogs and social networks. In addition to following existing laws, writers will be responsible for fact-checking any information they post and removing any inaccurate comments, and they're forbidden from harming the reputation of a person or group or using their platform to "hide or falsify information of general interest."
Bloggers will have to fact-check stories and manage comments
Aleksey Mitrofanov, head of the State Duma legislative body's information policies committee, has denied that this law regulates bloggers as a kind of mass media. "Special legal regulation for bloggers is to be introduced," he told the ITAR-TASS News Agency when the bill passed in April. "It is the other way around, bloggers who have been registered as an online publication are not subject to the operation of that law." But it apparently strips away one of the most basic elements of blogging: anonymous or pseudonymous publishing. Popular writers will be required to publish their surname, initials, and email address, apparently in addition to registering with the Roskomnadzor. Reporters Without Borders has criticized the law's wording as vague, and Global Voices notes that if a writer falls below 3,000 readers, they apparently bear the burden of proactively trying to get their name removed from the register. According to ITAR-TASS, individual violators will be fined between 10,000 and 30,000 rubles (roughly $280 to $850 at the current exchange rate), while "legal entities" will face fines of 300,000 rubles or $8,500.
Russia passed a sweeping internet-filtering bill in 2012, and the Kremlin has increasingly used its power to pressure critical media outlets. In December of last year, Putin dissolved the venerable RIA Novosti news service, putting its remains under the control of a supporter. A month later, Pavel Durov, founder of "Russian Facebook" VKontakte, sold his stake to an ally of Putin. Popular opposition blogger Alexei Navalny saw his blog blocked by ISPs in March; the news site of chess champion Garry Kasparov, among others, was also caught up in the crackdown. Along with the "blogger law," Putin also signed a bill barring profanity in films, theater, and other media, though its full scope is unclear.
The rules' implications for international bloggers seem nebulous, and while the Roskomnadzor will probably use external traffic measurements, some sites are attempting to make it harder to find a blog's readership. In April, ahead of the bill's passage, search engine Yandex shut down its blog search ranking tool. Later that month, LiveJournal head Dmitry Pilipenko announced that all LiveJournal subscription counts would stop at 2,500, with only bloggers and moderators able to see the real number. Page view-based rankings will also stop. "The above changes are based on plans to take measures to optimize the service," Pilipenko insisted. "All coincidences are accidental."