Q&A: Hurdles Ahead As Russia Surges On With ‘Sovereign Internet’ Plan

File Image of Laptop Computer, Tables and Mobile Device, adapted from image at energy.gov

(Article text ©2019 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – rferl.org – Alan Crosby – February 12, 2019 – article text also appeared at rferl.org/a/q-a-hurdles-ahead-as-russia-surges-on-with-sovereign-internet-plan/29766229.html) Draft legislation is in the pipeline in Russia that backers say is an effort to ensure the operation of a Russian Internet if access to servers located abroad is cut off or to prevent enemies abroad […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “Great Firewall fears as Russia plans to cut itself off from internet; Moscow says temporary disconnection is a test of its cyberdefence capabilities” – The Guardian (UK)/ Alex Hern, Marc Bennetts in Moscow

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“Russia is planning to temporarily disconnect from the internet … to test its cyberdefence capabilities[, a]ccording to a report on the Russian news site RBC … to analyse … preparedness for a draft law mandating a ‘sovereign’ internet. Under the draft law, all internal internet traffic would be carried within the country’s own networks. Any traffic that leaves Russia would […]

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Russia’s isolationist ‘sovereign internet’ bill worries experts and users alike

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(GlobalVoices – Christopher Moldes – January 26, 2018 – globalvoices.org/2019/01/26/russias-isolationist-sovereign-internet-bill-worries-experts-and-users-alike/) After a bill was introduced in the Russian State Duma (the lower chamber of Russia’s bicameral legislative branch), the Russian government soon plans to discuss the feasibility of creating a so-called “sovereign internet” system. This system would purportedly safeguard networks within Russia from foreign information attacks, and calls for significant […]

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Russian Youth: How Are They Different from Other Russians?

File Image of Laptop Computer, Tables and Mobile Device, adapted from image at energy.gov

(PONARS Eurasia – Maria Lipman, Denis Volkov – January 18, 2019 – ponarseurasia.org/point-counter/article/russian-youth-how-are-they-different-other-russians) Thanks to the rapid development of mobile Internet, practically every young Russian is an Internet user, regardless of whether he or she lives in a large urban center or in the provinces. The “digital gap” between the youth and other generations is quite significant, but this hardly […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “Russia Accuses Facebook, Twitter of Failing to Comply With Data Laws; Social-media giants’ servers for storing Russian’s personal data must be located in Russia, says watchdog” – Wall Street Journal/Ann M. Simmons

Montage of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Logos, adapted from image at nps.gov

“Russia launched administrative action against Facebook … and Twitter … for failing to comply with its data laws … just days after Facebook removed … accounts of what it said were two misinformation campaigns based in the country. … Roskomnadzor, the federal executive body responsible for censorship in media and telecommunications, said the social-media networks hadn’t submitted … formal and […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “Behind Russia’s cyberwarfare lies a serious case of cyber-phobia” – Washington Post/ Lincoln Pigman

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“… Russia grapples with its own deep cyber insecurity. Notwithstanding their bold moves in cyberspace, Russia’s leaders have spent much of the last decade panicking about cyber tools and the prospect of falling victim to their use by foreign adversaries. To be sure, the Kremlin isn’t worried that U.S. spies are hacking its voter systems. Rather, as my new study […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “Facebook Shuts Hundreds of Russia-Linked Pages, Accounts” – AP

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“Facebook … removed hundreds of Russia-linked pages, groups and accounts that it says were part of two big disinformation operations …. after finding two networks ‘that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior’ on … Facebook and Instagram …. Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said … that one network operated … in Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltics, Central Asia […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “Russian lawmakers amend criminal code to reduce pressure on social media activity” – bne Intellinews

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“… the State Duma … adopted amendments to … partially decriminalise … [criminal] code[] Article 282 … widely used for … offences involving social media content. As reported by … Meduza, first-time offenders will now face … misdemeanour charges, risking a RUB20,000 fine ($287 at the current exchange rate) or a 15-day jail sentence, instead of felony charges and a […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “In former Soviet states, a new tech-savvy resistance is stirring; From Russia to Armenia to Belarus there has been a surge in online justice campaigns. And it’s making a difference”- The Guardian/ Barbara von Ow-Freytag

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“… innovative activism is emerging across the former Soviet Union. I work for an organisation that supports civic activists and I see a new energy, self-belief and creativity that defies the pessimism permeating western debates about civil society in the region. … these Generation Z activists … [have] linked … with designers, tech experts and artists to test new forms […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “America’s exposure to Russian information warfare; U.S. democracy remains inexcusably vulnerable to hijack” – Financial Times (UK) Editorial

American Flag and Partial View of U.S. Capitol Dome, adapted from image at aoc.gov

“Some now call it an ‘information world war.’ Whether Russia tipped the 2016 election to Donald Trump is unknowable. But it is no longer possible to deny that the Kremlin is waging a multi-pronged form of information warfare on western democracies. The problem is by no means confined to the U.S. Other democracies, including the UK, the Netherlands and Italy, […]

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Online Social Networks Now Most Important Means to Mobilize Russian Voters, Political Technologists Say

Montage of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Logos, adapted from image at nps.gov

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, December 14, 2018) In “the new political reality” Russia has entered, one in which anti-elite attitudes are predominant, political technologists say that online social networks and especially Telegram are now far more important tools to mobilize voters than any of the traditional political methods. That is the conclusion offered in a report […]

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NEWSLINK: “Russian Effort to Influence 2016 Election Targeted African-Americans” – New York Times/ Scott Shane, Sheera Frenkel

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“The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of activity on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its posts on Facebook, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee. …”  

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RUSSIALINK: “Russia Is Ready to Publish Correspondence on Alleged U.S. Election ‘Interference,’ Official Says” – Moscow Times

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(Moscow Times – themoscowtimes.com – December 11, 2018) Russia is ready to publish its correspondence with the U.S. on its alleged “interference” in the 2016 elections, a top official at the Federal Security Service’s (FSB) national cyber security center has said. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign with hacking and propaganda, in […]

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NEWSLINK: “Russia Seen Adopting New Tactics in U.S. Election Interference Efforts” – Reuters

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“Russian agents believed to be connected to the government have been active in spreading divisive content and promoting extreme themes ahead of Tuesday’s U.S. mid-term elections, but they are working hard to cover their tracks, according to government investigators, academics and security firms. Researchers studying the spread of disinformation on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other platforms say the new, subtler […]

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NEWSLINK: “No Significant Foreign Interference Seen on Midterm Vote” – Wall Street Journal

Multilingual Polling Place Sign from U.S. Election Polling Place

“U.S. security officials and social media firms said Tuesday they spotted a limited amount of deliberate disinformation targeting the midterm election, but that they hadn’t observed any significant efforts to directly breach election infrastructure with cyberattacks. …”

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NEWSLINK: “Russia and the 2018 Midterms: Laying Out the Publicly Available Evidence” – RussiaMatters/ Mari Dugas, Natasha Yefimova-Trilling

U.S. Capitol in Bright Sunlight

“This week’s midterms offer a good opportunity for a status update on the latest evidence of Russian meddling in U.S. elections. Over the past six months, there has been no shortage of alarming warnings. In August, five of the country’s top national security officials spoke to reporters at the White House about the threat posed by Moscow and efforts to […]

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NEWSLINK: “Why It’s Still in Russia’s Interest to Mess With US Politics” – AP

Multilingual Polling Place Sign from U.S. Election Polling Place

PARIS – Sweeping accusations that the Kremlin tried to sway the 2016 U.S. election haven’t chastened Russian trolls, hackers and spies – and might even have emboldened them. U.S. officials and tech companies say Russians have continued online activity targeted at American voters during the campaign for Tuesday’s election, masquerading as U.S. institutions and creating faux-American social media posts to […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “Americans Are Easy Marks for Russian Trolls, According to New Data; A Daily Beast analysis of Twitter data shows the Kremlin troll farm’s English-language propaganda is nine times more effective than its disinformation in Russian.” – Daily Beast/Kevin Poulsen

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“… Best estimates trace the founding of the Internet Research Agency to August 2013, and for eight months of its existence the Saint Petersburg troll farm was focused on influencing citizens in Russia and Russia’s near abroad. Then in April 2014 the Kremlin-linked organization launched ‘Project Lakhta,’ according to federal prosecutors, aimed squarely at the United States. The IRA’s first […]

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NEWSLINK: “How Russian Trolls Inflamed the NFL’s Anthem Controversy; Russia-linked Twitter accounts sent more than 12,000 tweets about the NFL or the anthem in their alleged efforts to sow discord” – Wall Street Journal/ Andrew Beaton

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NEWSLINK: “Here Are The Issues Russian Trolls Are Using To Divide Americans Ahead Of The Midterm Elections; Russian-run social media accounts are still attempting to sow discord in the US, according to federal prosecutors, and they’re spending millions a year on the effort” – Buzzfeednews/Salvador Hernandez

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NEWSLINK: “How Russia cyber attacks helped Trump to the U.S. presidency; It’s clearer than ever: the theft and leaking of Democratic emails were key to Clinton’s election defeat” – The Guardian/Kathleen Hall Jamieson

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NEWSLINK: “Is a New Russian Meddling Tactic Hiding in Plain Sight?” – New York Times/Kevin Roose

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“To an untrained eye, USAReally might look like any other fledgling news organization vying for attention in a crowded media landscape. Its website publishes a steady stream of stories on hot-button political issues like race, immigration and income inequality. It has reader polls, a video section and a daily podcast. But this is no ordinary media start-up. USAReally is based […]

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NEWSLINK: “Only You Can Defeat Vladimir Putin; Russian Interference With America Is Profound and Systematic, So the Best Self-Defense Is We, the People” – ZocaloPublicSquare/ Reed Johnson

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“… By tampering with elections, hijacking social media platforms, and cranking out reams of bogus conspiracy theories and divisive propaganda, the Russian president and his intelligence operatives have been working overtime to destabilize rival governments and rile up their citizens against one another. With the midterm elections fast approaching, and the American public seething with partisan anger, a Zócalo/Japanese American […]

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NEWSLINK: “How Putin Works to Weaken Faith in the Rule of Law and Our Justice System” – Lawfare/Suzanne Spaulding, Harvey Rishikof

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“The ‘Secure Borders’ Facebook group was not the product of outraged Twin Falls residents. It was created by Russian operatives as part of Russia’s ongoing campaign to weaken our institutions of American democracy — in this case, by sowing discord and painting the justice system as an agent of politicians. …”  

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NEWSLINK: “Russia is gearing up to misinform the U.S. public about Syria. Here’s our cheat sheet to identify Twitter trolls” – Washington Post/Jack Nassetta, Ethan Fecht

Montage of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Logos, adapted from image at nps.gov

“Russia has begun laying the groundwork for an online influence operation …. How would this Twitter campaign unfold? Here’s what we learned from our recent analysis of a database of over 850,000 tweets collected following the April 2018 chemical attack in Douma, Syria. We uncovered a major increase — approximately 300 percent — in the creation of new Twitter accounts […]

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[Re:] American Intelligence [… Trump, Ukraine, Russia … “Fear: Trump in the White House/Woodward” … Politico ]

File Photo of White House with South Lawn and Fountain

Fear: Trump in the White House Bob Woodward – p.230 “McMaster (National Security Adviser) said that, at 6:03 a.m., Trump had tweeted:

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RUSSIALINK: “TV Still Russia’s Biggest News Source, but Trust Plummets – Poll” – Moscow Times

Adapted File Photo of TV Set in Russia with Camera, Camerman, Woman on Set in Background

(Moscow Times – themoscowtimes.com – September 13, 2018) Television remains the biggest news source for Russians but has become less trusted over the past decade, according to a new poll published by the independent Levada Center. Seventy-three percent of respondents told Levada that they get their news from television, down from 85 percent this spring. Online news outlets were the […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “Extreme prejudice: how the Kremlin is cracking down on discontent” – The Times (UK)/Tom Parfitt

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“… Incitement to commit a crime by undercover officers is illegal under Russian law. Critics say the defendants have been set up as hardened plotters intent on a nationwide revolt, when in fact they were simply a small group of disgruntled, naive, young people led on by a provocateur. The trial has a wider significance. … the most prominent of […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “Fred Weir: ‘This is amazing, astounding, really …’ [Re:] New York Times: “Kremlin Sources Go Quiet, Leaving C.I.A. in the Dark About Putin’s Plans for Midterms'” – Fred Weir/Facebook/New York Times

File Photo of Kremlin Tower, St. Basil's, Red Square at Night

(Fred Weir – facebook – August 25, 2018 – facebook.com/fred.weir/posts/10216143412434220) [live embedded feed of facebook post should load below; click here for direct link: facebook.com/fred.weir/posts/10216143412434220; text and link also recopied further below as back-up]   “This is amazing, astounding, really. All these stories, including this one, splashed over front pages, are purporting to tell us something about the most sensitive […]

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NEWSLINK: “Russia trolls ‘spreading vaccination misinformation’ to create discord” – BBC

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“Troll accounts that had attempted to influence the US election had also been tweeting about vaccines, a study says. Many posted both pro- and anti-vaccination messages to create “false equivalency”, the study found. …”

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NEWSLINK: “Russia’s got the gas and is ready to set fire to our system of democracy” – Miami Herald/Markos Kounalakis

Kremlin and River

“… even a currency crunch won’t stop Russia’s foreign interventions because, despite punitive sanctions, the price of oil, ultimately, pays for its troublemaking. High energy prices are the cost of power transferred from Europe and the United States to Russia and other petrostates. The higher the Brent crude price and the market for natural gas, the greater Russia’s domestic tranquility […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “Russia’s VK announces privacy changes to protect users from arrest” – bne Intellinews

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“Russia social media site vKontakte (VK) expanded its privacy functions to give its users more tools to protect them from arrest, the company said …. The Kremlin has been cracking down on online criticism of the government. Vedomosti reports that of 182 criminal cases launched in 2017 for social network posts, 138 were based on VK posts, with another four […]

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RUSSIALINK: “Mail.ru Group calls for amnestying people convicted of extremism over reposts, likes” – Interfax

Montage of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Logos, adapted from image at nps.gov

MOSCOW. Aug 15 (Interfax) – The Mail.ru Group has urged the State Duma, the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, and the Justice Ministry to decriminalize the activity of social media users and amnesty persons convicted on such counts. “We have sent the following official petitions today: we urged the State Duma to initiate the submission of a bill on the amnesty […]

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RUSSIALINK: “Kremlin urges social media prosecutions to stay within ‘reason'” – Interfax

Dmitry Peskov file photo adapted from image at kremlin.ru/wikimedia commons

(Interfax – August 14, 2018) The Kremlin has called on investigators and courts in Russia to stay within reason when prosecuting social media users for content they have posted online. “Of course, it is impossible to use general phrases here as each case is unique and needs a separate investigation … But, of course we know that there have been […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “U.S. Think Tank’s Tiny Lab Helps Facebook Battle Fake Social Media” – Reuters/New York Times

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“A day before Facebook announced that it had discovered and disabled a propaganda campaign designed to sow dissension among U.S. voters, it exclusively shared some of the suspicious pages with an online forensics team so busy it hasn’t put a nameplate on the door.  The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab is based in a 12-foot-by-12-foot office in the Washington, […]

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JRL NEWSWATCH: “The Kremlin is spearheading a new ‘social-media monitoring system’ to hold local officials more accountable” – Meduza

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“The Kremlin is reportedly spearheading a new social-media monitoring system called ‘Incident Management’ … follow[ing] social networks in real time …. being tested in two regions [one of which is] Moscow.  … monitor[ing] … Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram[], creating an ‘incident’ whenever related disgruntled posts … appear[] on multiple networks. Local officials are … supposed to respond … […]

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NEWSLINK: “Tech didn’t spot Russian interference during the last election. Now it’s asking law enforcement for help.” – Washington Post

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“Silicon Valley companies and law enforcement are starting to talk about how to ward off meddling by malicious actors including Russia on social media in the November midterms, an attempt at dialogue and information-sharing that was absent during the 2016 presidential elections. …”

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NEWSLINK: “Russiagate’s ‘Core Narrative’ Has Always Lacked Actual Evidence; The unprecedented allegation that the Kremlin ‘attacked America’ and ‘colluded’ with its president in order to elect him is based on two documents devoid of facts or logic” – The Nation/Stephen F. Cohen

Multilingual Polling Place Sign from U.S. Election Polling Place

“… Cohen reminds listeners that the Russiagate scandal, which first leaked into the media in mid-2016, has already done immense political damage during these two years. …”

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NEWSLINK: “Mueller asks to secure evidence in ‘Putin chef’ case, citing Russian intelligence and ongoing interference operations” – Washington Post/Spencer S. Hsu

Robert Mueller file photo, adapted from image at fbi.gov

“Federal prosecutors say they believe operations to interfere in U.S. elections are ongoing and want a court to tightly control how evidence gathered by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III about Internet trolling in 2016 is shared with a Russian company accused of helping to mislead American voters. … The filing seeking a protective order for documents came in proceedings […]

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Amid ‘Russiagate’ Hysteria, What Are the Facts? We must end this Russophobic insanity

Jack Matlock file photo, adapted from image at usembassy.gov

(Jack F. Matlock Jr. – June 2, 2018) Jack F. Matlock Jr., Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991, is the author of Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended and Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray-And How to Return to Reality. [Short Version: thenation.com/article/amid-russiagate-hysteria-what-are-the-facts/] [Longer version: jackmatlock.com/2018/06/musings-russiagate-hysteria/#more-982] Whom the gods would destroy, […]

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NEWSLINK: “See Which Facebook Ads Russians Targeted to People Like You” – New York Times/Keith Collins

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“Congress last week released thousands of Facebook ads linked to Russia that ran through the 2016 presidential election, the most comprehensive look to date at the misinformation campaign mounted on the social network. Choose from the options below to see which ads were targeted to people like you or those you know, down to age, location and interests. …”

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NEWSWATCH: “Don’t ‘overdo’ it online, if you fear the fuzz; A linguist explains the messy science that fuels Russia’s anti-extremism policing” – Meduza

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“The number of ‘extremist’ crimes committed in Russia has been growing for the past several years. According to the ‘Sova’ analytical center, police launched 563 extremism investigations in 2016 and 858 new cases in 2017. Most of the suspects in these investigations are ordinary Internet users who have expressed their political views on social media. Dozens of these people have […]

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UKRAINELINK: “With influence activities exposed, Kremlin acts even more boldly – Estonian intel chief” – UNIAN

Stylized Artist's Depiction of Shadowy Figures in Dark Coats and Dark Hats, One Carrying a Briefcase

“The fact that Russian influence operations were thrust into the public limelight with revelations of Moscow’s interference with U.S. elections did not deter the Kremlin; on the contrary – it takes pride in it, according to Mikk Marran, Director General of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service. From the Kremlin’s perspective, influence operations are ‘cheap, reliable and essential,’ Marran wrote ….” […]

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Kremlin Spokesman Still Uses Telegram Despite Ban

File Image of Laptop Computer, Tables and Mobile Device, adapted from image at energy.gov

(Moscow Times – themoscowtimes.com – April 26, 2018) Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he still uses the Telegram messaging service despite the state regulator’s efforts to block it from being accessible in the country. Regulator Roskomnadzor began enforcing a court ordered ban on Telegram on April 16 after the messaging app refused to grant the Russian security services access to […]

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NEWSWATCH: “Silicon Valley Giants Face a Test in Russia; Russian censors are going after Telegram, but the pressure is on Amazon, Google and Facebook too” – Bloomberg/Leonid Bershidsky

Montage of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Logos, adapted from image at nps.gov

“The Russian authorities’ first experiment with blocking a popular messenger application — Telegram — is not working out so far. The web censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, has blocked millions of internet addresses to beat Telegram into submission, but it’s still widely available even without any bypass mechanisms, while numerous legitimate sites have experienced downtime. … Russian social networks have exploded with […]

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RUSSIALINK: Interfax: “Int’l rules of conduct needed to prevent situations like blocking of Russian media outlets’ Facebook accounts – Nikiforov”

File Photo of UN Building with Flags

MOSCOW. April 5 (Interfax) – Russia will insist that the United Nations adopt an international convention to lay down rules of conduct on the Internet and deal with the illegal blocking of online resources, Russian Communications and Mass Media Minister Nikolai Nikiforov said on Thursday. “Our foreign colleagues, above all American, continue to exhibit their customary practice of double standards. […]

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NEWSWATCH: “When does Russian propaganda work – and when does it backfire? Here’s what we found.” – Washington Post/Leonid Peisakhin, Arturas Rozenas

Montage of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Logos, adapted from image at nps.gov

“Assuming that Russia knows how its propaganda affects its audience, we might be able to figure out what it was trying to do in the U.S. election. If Russia targeted voters predisposed toward Trump, trying to motivate them to vote, that would suggest its goal was to help him get elected. But if Russia spread its biased messages broadly, that […]

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Defending Digital Democracy

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Subject: Democracy’s Front-Line Defenders Date: Thu, 29 Mar 2018 From: Eric Rosenbach <erosenbach@belfercenter.hks.harvard.edu> Defending Digital Democracy America’s enemies aren’t resting. Neither are we. I hope you’ll be in touch with me with thoughts about how we can strengthen our efforts to defend democracy. Warm regards, Eric Rosenbach Co-Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University Director, Defending Digital […]

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House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence: Russia Investigation

American Flag and Partial View of U.S. Capitol Dome, adapted from image at aoc.gov

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence March 12, 2018 Russia Investigation [PDF: intelligence.house.gov/uploadedfiles/ hpsci_russia_investigation_one_page_summary.pdf ] Overview Following a more than yearlong, bipartisan investigation into Russia active measures targeting the 2016 U.S. election, the House Intelligence Committee has completed a draft report of 150+ pages, with 600+ citations. The draft report addresses, in detail, each of the questions within the agreed […]

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