07MOSCOW4067, BLOGGING IN RUSSIA

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW4067 2007-08-21 08:50 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO5440
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #4067/01 2330850
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 210850Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3054
INFO RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2364
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2656
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 4410

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 004067 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV SOCI RS
SUBJECT: BLOGGING IN RUSSIA 
 
MOSCOW 00004067  001.2 OF 003 
 
 
1.  (SBU)  Summary:  Blogs are the fastest-growing and least 
constrained mass media in Russia.  The popularity of blogs has 
increased exponentially in Russia as the internet has become more 
accessible, especially among people in their 20s and 30s.  Although 
most Russian blogs do not deal with political matters, they still 
represent an important social phenomenon and provide an independent 
medium and a barometer for free speech.  The GOR has not yet 
determined how to address the political challenge emanating from 
blogs or the growing extremist and violent hate speech, but efforts 
to contain or constrict free expression on the internet are likely 
to be ineffective.  End Summary. 
 
--------------------------------- 
The Russian Blog: A Brief History 
--------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) The first Russian blogs appeared on the popular blog server 
LiveJournal in 1999.  Early on, the predominant users were the 
political and intellectual elites, who took advantage of the 
internet's freedom to express views that did not appear in the 
traditional mass media.  According to contacts and bloggers alike, 
the blogosphere has maintained an atmosphere that is more liberal 
than other forms of mass media.  Individual bloggers have joined 
into communities and developed developed an entire cyber social 
network connecting people with similar interests from dispersed 
geographical locations. 
 
3. (SBU) Internet usage in Russia has quadrupled over the past four 
years, but overall penetration into Russian society is still low.  A 
2006 Romir center survey found that only 14 percent of Russian 
adults use the internet at least once a week, and only five percent 
use it on a daily basis.  Additionally, an August 2007 poll by the 
Levada Center revealed that 75 percent of Russians do not have a 
computer at home. 
 
4. (SBU) Politicians, media, and large corporations have all sought 
to capitalize on the popularity of this latest form of mass media. 
Norilsk Nickel started a corporate blog to improve the company's 
image and "connect with a younger audience" according to Public 
Relations Director Sergey Chernitsin.  Russian search engine 
Yandex.ru has created a daily list of the thirty most popular blogs, 
and online Russian newspapers such as Moskovskiy Komsomolets, 
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Kommersant, and Vedomosti, have created 
blog-like discussion forums for readers to comment on articles. 
 
5. (SBU) LiveJournal remains the most popular Russian blog server, 
and boasts more than one million users and sixty-five thousand 
communities.  LiveJournal is owned by U.S. Company SixApart, and the 
network servers are located in California.  When Russian company 
Sup-Frabrik purchased the licensing rights to Russian LiveJournal in 
2006, many internet freedom advocates here expressed fears that the 
government would soon control or close LiveJournal.  Despite fears, 
Russian LiveJournal and its users have continued to enjoy continued 
independence. 
 
----------------- 
Meet the Bloggers 
----------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Precise statistics on this dispersed and anonymous group 
are difficult to collect.  Politicheskiy Zhurnal reported that as of 
April 2007, over two million blogs existed in the Russian language - 
a 74 percent increase from November 2006.  More than half of the 
readers of these Russian-language blogs live outside of Russia, 
according to Anton Nosik, head of blog services at SUP and a 
cyberspace entrepreneur who developed the popular Russian news sites 
Gazeta.ru and Lenta.ru.  An April 2007 Yandex.ru report, "Status of 
the Russian Internet Blogosphere" found that the majority of 
bloggers live in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and about one third of 
Russian-language blogs are written by bloggers outside of Russia, 
including (in decreasing order) Ukraine, the United States, Belarus, 
Estonia, and Israel. 
 
7. (SBU)  Despite the expansive growth of the blogger community, it 
still represents only a small portion of the Russian population, and 
this community is much younger, wealthier, and more urban than the 
average Russian.  A study by the Romir Center found that the 
majority of internet users (and therefore bloggers) are from cities 
with a population of over five hundred thousand because large cities 
have the most access to the internet. The Yandex report claims that 
twice as many women as men have created blogs, and describes the 
average blogger as a 21-year old female college student in Moscow 
who is interested in music, movies, psychology, books and sex. 
Nosik said his data shows that the average blogger is a twenty-five 
year old male with eighty friends.  (Note: "Friends" in blogspeak 
are those allowed to read and comment on one's blog, and does not 
indicate any sort of personal acquaintance.) 
 
 
MOSCOW 00004067  002.2 OF 003 
 
 
---------------------- 
Mobilizing the Masses 
---------------------- 
 
8. (SBU) Some blogs have been used to organize and mobilize 
collective action.  In February 2006, a protest against bureaucrats 
receiving special traffic privileges (an event organized on the blog 
community LiveInternet.ru) drew over a thousand protesters in 
Siberia.  Masha Gaidar, a blogger and leader of the youth movement 
DA!, told us that blogs and the liberal radio station Ekho Moskviy 
are the only ways to get out announcements and mobilize large groups 
of people.  Activists on the far-right have also used blogs to 
mobilize their followers.  Blogs by the ultra-right wing youth 
organization, Movement Against Illegal Migration (DPNI), used blogs 
to encourage a series of ethnic fights that broke out in Moscow in 
June 2007 and to organize the November 2006 Russian March. 
 
------------------ 
First-Hand Sources 
------------------ 
 
9. (SBU) Blogs have provided us greater access to first-hand 
accounts of events.  For example, during the Nashi summer camp in 
July 2007, bloggers were the primary source of information about 
Nashi's activities because reporters were not permitted on the camp 
premises.  One leading blogger and journalist Dmitriy Galkovskiy 
considered the communication between bloggers and sheer amount of 
information available on blogs to be an invaluable aspect of the 
blogosphere.  Galkovskiy wrote "people on the internet have learned 
to compare information and judge events from different points of 
view.  Crude government propaganda has little effect." 
 
--------------------------------------- 
Politics, Hatred, and Freedom of Speech 
--------------------------------------- 
 
10. (SBU) Grigoriy Shvedov of Memorial told us that blogging is 
extremely popular in Russia because it is a place of uninhibited 
political discussion for people who otherwise "don't have a 
political voice."  Mariya Gaidar added that she considers blogs to 
be important because they provide a "direct line of communication 
with the government."  She explained that the government regularly 
monitors blogs, so that "if you call a minister an idiot, he is 
going to know about it."  She saw this monitoring in a positive 
light because it meant that the government was listening to the 
opinions of average Russians.  Ilya Yashin, an active blogger and 
leader of Youth Yabloko, told us that blogs will become increasingly 
important because they are the only place in Russia where people can 
discuss things freely. 
 
11. (SBU) This free speech has a disturbingly dark side. 
Nationalist and neo-Nazi blogs promote violence against ethnic 
minorities and are used to recruit members and broadcast messages. 
Beginning on August 14, a video and still photos claiming to show 
the execution of two men - a Tajik and a Dagestani - were posted on 
several neo-Nazi and nationalist Livejournal blogs.  The men, bound 
and gagged, were forced to their knees in front of a Nazi banner and 
then executed for being "colonists" in Russia; one was shot in the 
head, and the other was decapitated.  Although some bloggers have 
questioned the authenticity of the video, experts on extremism have 
pointed to the rapid spread of these gruesome images and the violent 
responses encouraging the violence as evidence of the audience for 
this movement. 
 
------------------ 
Blogs Under Attack 
------------------ 
 
12. (SBU) Recent court cases have raised questions about the future 
of internet freedom for bloggers.  In early 2007, Duma Deputy Viktor 
Alksnis unsuccessfully sued a blogger for slander.  In August 2007, 
Duma Deputy Vladimir Medinskiy filed suit against fellow Deputy 
Aleksandr Lebedev for attacking Medinskiy's character on his 
personal blog.  Lebedev did not expect anything to come out of the 
case, but he did see the suit as evidence of the government's desire 
to wield a greater influence over the internet.  Lebedev told the 
press that his blog is "the only place in which I can openly give my 
opinion, and I place a high value on this." 
 
13. (SBU) Although they reluctantly agreed that the internet remains 
independent, NGO representatives Grigoriy Shvedov of Memorial and 
Irina Yemshova of the ICNL Alliance both expressed concerns at the 
prospect of government regulations on the internet.  In 2006, a 
Novosibirsk court found that four Chechen websites promoted 
extremism and terrorism and ordered a local internet service 
provider to stop hosting them.  In June 2007, Deputy Prosecutor 
General Ivan Sydoruk called for legal controls on the internet 
because "practical experience shows that the internet often becomes 
 
MOSCOW 00004067  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
a medium for spreading extremist ideas."  On August 14, a blogger in 
Komi Republic was charged with inciting hatred in the mass media for 
posting the comment: "Cops and hooligans are one and the same.  It 
wouldn't be a bad idea if crooked cops were periodically set on fire 
[in a local square]." 
 
14. (SBU) A series of recent hacker and DDoS (Distributed Denial of 
Service) attacks on websites and blogs have increased concern about 
internet freedom.  Already this year, DDoS attacks temporarily shut 
down the websites of the opposition parties "Other Russia," Yabloko, 
and the LDPR; Kommersant newspaper and liberal radio station Ekho 
Moskviy; and the blogging sites of political opposition groups DPNI 
and the National Bolshevik Party.  (A DDoS attack occurs when 
thousands of computers attempt to access one website at one time and 
overload the server.  The attacking computers are usually infected 
with a virus and the owners are often not aware that their computers 
are part of the attack.)  The number of attacks targeting opposition 
groups raised speculation in the blogosphere that the government 
supported or organized the DDoS attacks. 
 
15. (SBU) Despite the court cases, comments by officials, and DDoS 
attacks, political analysts doubted that the Russian government 
would take any steps to restrict the internet.  In December 2004, 
Putin said that he would disapprove of attempts to control the 
internet under a law enforcement pretext, adding "Whether one likes 
[the criticism of the government] or not, one can learn what people 
think."  Yuri Korgunick, editor-in-chief of the political website 
Partinform, told us that he thought the internet would remain free 
because it is too difficult to control.  Andrei Richter, Director of 
the Moscow Media Law and Policy Institute, agreed, saying that the 
government does not have enough resources to monitor blogs and it is 
not worth the government's effort to do so.  In spite of court cases 
and hacker attacks, Gaidar considered blogging "freer than any other 
sort of mass media." 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
16. (SBU) Blogging is becoming an important new measure of political 
freedom.  Although bloggers are a small portion of the population, 
and most blogs are apolitical, they represent an increasingly 
relevant media for free exp
ression and a useful yardstick for 
evaluating the freedom of the traditional media.  Absent a dramatic 
reversal of GOR policy and a shift towards PRC-style tactics, the 
attempts to control this sphere through ownership, direct government 
control, lawsuits, or hacker attacks will likely do more to 
highlight the motives and limitations of its opponents than 
constrain the activities or views of its users. 
 
MELVILLE

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