Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Kremlin's If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em Social Media Strategy

Russia recently surpassed Germany as the European country with the most internet users.  While this could be taken as a positive sign of Russia's modernity and development from the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, it's doubtful that the folks in the Kremlin are viewing it that way.

Part of the reason for the growth of internet users in Russia is that the internet is the one form of mass media not under tight de facto control by the state.  That's also the reason why the internet has played a large role in organizing the political opposition to Vladimir Putin during the past year; Alexei Navalny  for one has risen to national stature based on his blog, which freely criticizes the Putin administration.

Seeing that they missed the boat on setting up a web-filtering system like China's Great Firewall, the Kremlin is taking a new tack: they'll try to beat the opposition at their own social media game.  Last week, Kremlin officials announced that they would be launching their own, as yet unnamed, government-run social networking site for Russia, set up along the lines of Facebook. Officials have high hopes for the new networking site and say that private capital will be used to develop the web project.

But Russia already has its own privately-run Facebook clones: Vkontakte (“In Contact”) and Odnoklassniki (“Our Class”), the former of which bears an amazing resemblance to Facebook.  Since these social networks already exist, along with an official Russian-language option for Facebook as well, critics wonder why anyone would join a government-run social networking site, especially since it is reasonable to assume that the government would be monitoring content on the site and would likely take a dim view of any critique of the government.

“If the government creates some form of social network, then people will not join it,” said Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia's security services and the internet in an article in The Guardian. “It is not realistic.”
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