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Russian Web Censorship Got You Down? Fight It With “Counter-Absurdity”!

It has now been more than a month since the blacklist of the Russian Internet [ru] went live. During this time, ROSKOMNADZOR (the agency in charge of administering the registry of websites deemed unlawful) has blocked more than 600 websites [ru]. Some of these were blocked legitimately (online narcotics distributors and the like), but others highlight the absurdity of the blacklist's premise. Such was the case with satirical wiki Lurkmore (covered by RuNet Echo here [GV]). A more recent example is a banned web-comic that intentionally satirized the registry [ru].

Censorship. © Isaac Mao. April 18, 2005. CC 2.0

In fact, it seems that humor is the only recourse available to supporters of an uncensored Internet. That, at least, was the approach taken by Moscow-based ISP RiNet. (Note that Russian ISPs are the parties formally charged with the technical aspects of enforcing the blacklist). On November 30, 2012, RiNet made the following announcement [ru]:

Мы понимаем, что последние законодательные инициативы направлены на формирование нового – конструктивного Интернета. Однако как профессионалы вынуждены признать, что с технической точки зрения эти меры совершенно недостаточны. Идя навстречу тем, кто нуждается в доступе к ресурсам исключительно проверенного содержания, RiNet первым из российских провайдеров предлагает вам уникальный тарифный план «Чистый Интернет». [...] Если вы выберете тариф «Чистый Интернет», у вас будет уникальная возможность посещать только сайты с гарантированно благопристойным содержимым.

We understand that recent legislative initiatives are aimed at forming a new, constructive Internet. But, as professionals, we are forced to admit that, from the technical point of view, these measures are insufficient. In deference to those who need access to resources with purely trusted content, RiNet is the first Russian provider to offer a unique payment plan: “Clean Internet.” [...] If you choose the “Clean Internet” plan, you will have the unique opportunity to visit only sites with decorous content, guaranteed.

RiNet's friendly green man logo. Screenshot. December 11, 2012.

The plan, which costs around 26 USD per month, and the list of “decorous” websites can be found here [ru]. It includes such perennial favorites as www.kremlin.ru, www.gov.ru, www.government.ru, www.minjust.ru, www.fskn.gov.ru, www.minzdrav.gov.ru, and little else. (Readers, you get the idea.) Granted, RiNet made it look official, even going as far as to establish a contest for best “Clean Internet” viral marketing [ru]. Nevertheless, the clearly tongue-in-cheek announcement managed to fool some people. LiveJournal user russel8 rolled his eyes [ru] in response to the news:

В принципе – на сумасшедших можно было бы и не обращать внимание, но что-то меня пугает, что ещё немного – и это будет нормой.

In principle, we shouldn't take note of the crazies, but something tells me that one more drop — and this will become normal.

Writer Kirill Eskov was also taken in and lamented it [ru] as “symptomatic,” while user kotmatraskin mused ironically [ru]:

Идея мегапозитивная, отражает нашу российскую ментальность и как мне кажется просто обречена на коммерческий успех.

A super-positive idea, it reflects our Russian mentality and, I think, is doomed for commercial success.

LJ user abspro on the other hand, didn't think it was a big deal [ru]:

ну, а что такого? я например, пользуюсь для своего сына специальным детским браузером, ЗакБраузер. Только развивающий детский контент. Жаль, что нет его аналогов на русском.

So what? I, for one, use a special kids browser for my son, ZakBrowser. Only developmental content for children. Too bad there are no Russian analogues.

Of course, many saw RiNet's statement for what it is — an elegant exercise in trolling. Echo Mosky elder Vladimir Varfolomeev commented [ru]:

Если возможностей оспаривать идиотские решения больше нет, остаётся их только высмеивать. Браво, провайдер!

If there is no longer a means to argue with idiotic decisions, the only thing left is to make fun of them. Bravo, ISP!

A few days later, RiNet Director Sergei Ryzhkov, who blogs as timhydr, confirmed that the exercise was a practical joke of sorts, and explained his reasoning [ru]:

[...] у общества нет работоспособного интерфейса взаимодействия с регулятором. [...] Собственно в основе этой акции – “Чистый интернет” – лежала простая мысль – творится абсурд. Как можно ответить на исходящий сверху абсурд? Только встречным абсурдом. [...] Ну вот еще можно попиариться :-/

[...] society has no working interface of interacting with the regulator. [...] Strictly speaking the basis of “Clean Internet” was a simple thought — absurdity is being created. How can we respond to absurdity that's coming from the top? Only with counter-absurdity. [...] Well, we can also do a little bit of marketing :-/

A shrewd move, sure. And an amusing one.

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