Russia has again taken further steps to curb independent news provision via the Internet. Yesterday it came out that the BBC is being blocked online, among other things. On television you can almost only follow the state channels, which say exactly what the Kremlin wants.
In recent days, the number of internet blockages has expanded rapidly. In addition to the BBC (which was very popular just now), other Russian-language foreign media, including Deutsche Welle, Voice of America and Latvia-based Meduza. Facebook has also been blocked by the internet regulator, and Twitter has been restricted.
Blockages were expected
“Actually, it is in line with expectations that foreign networks would be closed,” says Han Bouwmeester, lecturer in military strategy at the Defense Academy and who specializes in information manipulation by Russia. “In the EU it was decided to ban RT and Sputnik. What you often see is Russia reacting to what the West is doing.”
The BBC says on Twitter that it is doing everything it can to remain available to people in Russia. In another message, the media organization some tips†
Bouwmeester calls the blocking of the BBC primarily a symbolic act. “The older Russians don’t look too much at foreign media. Especially Russia 1 is the channel they rely on the most, especially the older population. Younger generations are more focused on the internet.”
Those looking for independent news sources online should resort to a VPN connection. VPN stands for virtual private network and makes it possible to pretend that you are accessing the internet from another country.
According to market researcher Appfigures, the estimated number of VPN app downloads in the Apple and Google app stores has exploded in the last week and a half. Last Tuesday alone, the apps were downloaded half a million times. Normally the number of downloads is around 10,000.
In addition to VPNs, Telegram also proves to be of great value. The app has built up a mixed reputation in recent years, with critics often pointing out that the developers moderate too little.
Charlie Peters sees the positive side of Telegram right now. He studied Russian and lived in Moscow for a year. Now he works as a developer at Tilt, a Dutch company that focuses on tackling disinformation and manipulation. Peters still has a lot of contact with friends in Russia.
“Telegram has been a blessing to them,” he says. “They are afraid that they will soon lose access to information about the war.” Russia has been trying to tackle the app for years, but so far it has not been successful. Not so much the chat functionality, but the possibility to keep people informed in the form of chat messages is popular.
Peters is not surprised by what goes on in state media. “However, the scale of disinformation is greater than ever.”
More than ever, there is a parallel world these days: on the one hand what is reported in the West and on the other what Russian state media put out. “That parallel reality did not start last week,” says strategy expert Bouwmeester.
Bouwmeester calls the fact that Russia is now even more restricting the free press as a very worrying development. His main concern is that Russia is ‘vibrating’ from the rest of the world. “Russia is increasingly moving in the direction of a North Korea-like state that is cut off from the rest of the world. So you see that emerging here.”