On the situation in the Russian Internet and Possibilities for Remedying the Existing Problems
The number of Russian web-sites disseminating - this way or another - ethnic, racial and religious hatred and discord (hate speech) is growing each year. These sites are diverse in their political orientation, confessional affiliation, degree of radicalism of texts and slogans, intellectual content. Consequently, this sector of the Russian Internet satisfies interests not only of those users who share such views, but also of those who are interested in topics touched upon by hate-sites.
In Russia there is no specific legislation of Internet regulation, although such law projects are currently discussed in the Parliament. Most often, the lack of special norms is understood as the lack of prohibitions, although the general hate-speech prohibitions relate to all public statements. Therefore, abolition of sites spreading hate speech is not done systematically and not by virtue of law, but sporadically and by decisions of hosting providers, owing to good will or to insistent requests of law-enforcement bodies. With time, this is done more and more often, yet new hate speech sites emerge or regenerate even faster.
The lack of systematic pressure upon such sites allows them to appear on Russian servers. Out of 190 sites registered by the SOVA center for the beginning of June 2004, 80 % exist in Russia and only less than 20% in the USA and Canada; moreover, the share of the Russian hosting seems to be rather understated.
Anti-fascist community regards this situation as abnormal, yet till nowadays societal counteraction was limited by episodic, and hence, not particularly fruitful efforts of informing hosting-providers, or by hacker attacks.
No doubt, the state could curb dissemination of speech in the Internet. However, in Russia and other states with weak democratic institutes and traditions, there exists a large risk of abuse, on the part of the state, of all possibilities of repressive functions, especially those related to the freedom of speech. That is why we think that the state should not be endowed with new functions of control and repression, but be induced to apply the already existing methods in a more effective way.
Legislative norms already worked out in Russia may well be applied in relation to the Internet. First, this is mass media regulation - for those sites that are registered as mass media sites. Secondly, penal persecution for propaganda of hatred. Thirdly, administrative sanctions for propaganda of Nazi symbolism and some other actions. So far in Russia none of these norms has been used in relation to the Internet, so it is too early to speak about their insufficiency.
Yet the community should also be more actively engaged in this activity. While planning such activity one should take into consideration the following factors:
- without the inadmissible infringement upon the freedom of speech, it is impossible to deprive those who propagate hatred of the possibility to create their sites;
- for the same reasons it is impossible to exclude the possibility to use these sites for those who are interested in them;
- yet it is possible, using systematic pressure, to create difficulties for those who create such sites, making them transfer their sites from one place to another;
- it is also possible to diminish the chances of common users (e.g. those interested in questions of history, ethnology, religion etc.) to get to such sites.
To reach these purposes, it is necessary to launch systematic activities in the following directions:
- tracing hate-sites;
- establishing contacts with hosting providers in order to abolish such sites;
- creating special discussion environment around the issue of hatred in the Internet, in order to morally stimulate hosting providers (who should be a part of such discussion), to cut off the inadmissible content;
- organizing work with catalogues and search systems in order to work out methods of pushing hate-sites from the leading positions and offering users, by their special requests, various resources not including hate speech (See: Social advertising in Internet against extremism and xenophobia statement.)
These actions should, on the one hand, be taken quickly, because the problem of hate speech in the Russian Internet becomes more and more acute, yet on the other hand, cautiously, in order not to create additional threats to the freedom of speech.
SOVA Center (Alexander Verkhovsky)
European University at St Petersburg (Dmitry Dubrovsky)
DEMOS Center (Tanya Lokshina)