Tech

Kremlin penetrates deeper into online world of Russians

Last week, VKontakte, Russia’s largest homemade social media platform, was acquired by a company affiliated with state-owned gas giant Gazprom, a sense of the final action of a long, creeping story of state control over the company.

In this, Facebook’s look-alike trajectory reflects the trajectory of Russia’s entire Internet, from the bohemian Ru-net of the 2000s to the increasingly dubbed ones. Sovereign net According to today’s local media — the Kremlin has more control than ever before.

Founded by Programmer Pavel Durov Held in St. Petersburg in 2006, V Kontakte was a heretical start-up that did not hesitate to confront the state when it demanded the suppression of accounts linked to political opposition.

However, the mass protests that rocked Moscow in 2012 were often coordinated on social media. Set the Kremlin’s sights to crackdown — And V Kontakte on the collision course. Durov left the country in 2014 after claiming he was forced to sell his stake to a parent Kremlin investor. Mail.ru, which bought a 48% stake, repeatedly denied acting on behalf of the Kremlin.

Incorporated into the vast possession of tycoon Alisher Usmanov, VKontakte has begun sharing user data with law enforcement agencies (legally required) and has “tuned to the Kremlin’s agenda,” digital rights. Attorney Sarkis Darbinyan said.

Critics now say that indirect influence has turned into direct ownership.Usmanov last week Sold shares in his group VK (formerly known as Mail.ru), the parent company of VKontakte, is an affiliate of insurance companies Sogaz and Gazprom-Media Holding, both state-owned Gazprom. The two share control.

Boris Dobrodiev, VK CEO has resigned. His successors could be Vladimir Putin’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Russian media agency RBC, and Bell’s son Vladimir Kirienko, CEO of Russian national communications group Rostelecom. high.

Darbinyan, co-founder of the Internet freedom group Roskomsvoboda, said: He added that he left the social media platform about five years ago and performed what he called “digital seppuku” when the first signs of national influence appeared.

In recent years, many Russians have turned to foreign social media platforms. According to Mediascope monitors, VKontakte is still very popular, with about 71 million monthly users in Russia, more than 79 million on YouTube. The use of Facebook and WhatsApp is also growing rapidly — Kremlin bugbear, This sees the role of the western tech giant as a threat.

Promoting VKontakte under the umbrella of Gazprom could be a convenient way to bring Russian users back to the domestic platform, said Alena Epifanova of the German Foreign Relations Council.

“The long-term goal is to get foreign social media companies out of the Russian market,” Epifanova said. “V Kontakte is supposed to replace Facebook.”

Use A series of proceedings and finesThe Kremlin is putting pressure on Western tech companies and demanding compliance with local data and content legislation.

“To be honest, I think YouTube has six months left in Russia,” said a senior researcher at the European Center for Policy Analysis. Red web.. “Next year, we will move to the stage of banning the global platform.”

Gazprom-Media said it was interested in acquiring a stake in VK because of the natural business synergies it saw. “While VK combines one of the country’s leading social networks with millions of viewers and traffic, Gazprom-Media Holding is the country’s largest producer of popular and demanding content,” he said.

Along with VKontakte and other companies on the VK network, Gazprom-Media, one of Russia’s largest media holdings, has a vast range of Russia’s online world, in addition to TV channels, radio stations, printing presses and filmmaking. I am managing it. .. “There is centralization,” said Soldatov. “Companies are becoming ministries.”

Gazprom-Media declined to comment on whether the acquisition of VK’s stake has increased the government’s influence on social media sites.

Germany’s Klimenko, a former Putin adviser on Internet issues, said choosing a company linked to Gazprom as a buyer is purely a business move. “I don’t see the political factor … The cost of such a transaction is high and few players can buy it.”

According to Klimenko, the move did not penetrate the state deeply into social networks. “”[VK] Is a Russian company and is fully compliant with the law and all the requirements that come with it, “said Klimenko. “Currently in Russia, you don’t have to buy an internet company to control or receive anything from an internet company. If you want to stop using blasphemous words in VKontakte, the law All you have to do is go through. “

polina.ivanova@ft.com

Kremlin penetrates deeper into online world of Russians Source link Kremlin penetrates deeper into online world of Russians

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