Censorhip, Bots and an Internet Troll Army, OH MY!

By: Sasha Martczyanov

Last week, we had the pleasure of having Anna Kluyeva lead the lecture in our Strategic Social Media class. As students living in the United States, our social media experience is much different than young adults living in countries with high censorship of internet content, like Kluyeva’s home country Russia. Anna Kluyeva was generous enough to shed some light on what it’s like to participate in social media in a strict and highly-censored country like Russia.

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an example of an outlawed meme

Even just acquiring a social media account in Russia can prove to be a bit of a challenge. In order to sign up for social media in Russia there is a verification process the user must go through. The user must sign up with a cell phone, in Russia cell phones are only sold to those with passports. By requiring the user to show a passport in exchange for a cell phone the user is essentially allowing the Russian government access to their info.

Unfortunately, the rigidness doesn’t end there. Posting content deemed “extremist” by the Russian government is considered a crime. Users who post such content can be fined, and even jailed. What is considered “extremist content” in Russia fits into what US citizens define as satirical. For example, all memes depicting Russian president Vladimir Putin are outlawed. Russia is rigorous in their censorship, censoring at least 4,000 websites for unseemly content per day. This type of government endorsed censorship leads users’ to self-censor, limiting their freedom of speech.

Not only does Russia harshly censor users’ content, but they are also in possession an army of paid bloggers working as pro-Russia Internet trolls and employ thousands of Pro-Russia Twitterbots that produce automated content. According to an article from the Guardian, these internet trolls are paid to flood social forums with Anti-Western comments, regardless of topic. “Trolls” are unofficially employed by the Russian government and are paid in cash for reaching the required post limit per day. The bots, while not humans, serve a similar purpose, to flood Twitter with Pro-Russia content.

Russia’s views and guidelines regarding social media vary vastly from what we have experienced in the United States, and ultimately I think that’s something we should make an effort not take for granted.

This Article Has 10 Comments
  1. Darin says:

    Given that these trolls have quotas to meet, it doesn’t seem like they are deeply invested in each post and probably have a list of pre-scripted posts which they copy and paste en masse. Do these bots/trolls follow any trends that might make it easy for one to identify them? Basically, do the flood of “pro-Russia” posts have qualities to them which come off as unauthentic and easy to spot?

    • Sasha says:

      Great question, Darin. I recall Anna Kluyeva saying that yes, it is easy to spot trolls. She said an obvious sign of a troll is posting irrelevant instigating comments on posts, usually politically centered and Pro-Russia or Anti-Western. Also, if you check out the link in the blog post it should take you to an article with more information. Hope this could help.

  2. Darin Shelstad says:

    Given that these trolls have quotas to meet, it doesn’t seem like they are deeply invested in each post and probably have a list of pre-scripted posts which they copy and paste en masse. Do these bots/trolls follow any trends that might make it easy for one to identify them? Basically, do the flood of “pro-Russia” posts have qualities to them which come off as unauthentic and easy to spot?

  3. Alexis McNeal says:

    Sasha-
    It is super crazy how much censorship they have. It seems insane to me that in order to sign up for social media account there is a verification process where the user has to sign up with their cell phone and passport! It’s practically like getting on an airplane! It totally is like giving the government full rights for your information. But then, when I think about it, isn’t that kind of what we are doing too in the US? Just not so in-depth? When we put all our information out there the government can definitely see it no matter if we show our passport or not. Users these days throw out information about themselves without any thought. Maybe we should be a little more careful too!
    Thanks for the post!

    • Sasha Martczyanov says:

      Great point, Alexis. In another class at the journalism school we did an activity where we all passed around our IDs and then compared the information listed on the IDs, birthday, address, name, etc., to the information we post about ourselves on our online profiles. It was virtually the same. I think a lot of the time we don’t realize how much personal information we put online, nor realize the amount of information we’re giving out to strangers who view our profiles.

  4. Natalie Mangan says:

    Sasha,
    I enjoyed reading your article! You bring up a lot of interesting points, but I think the most important aspect of your article is how we as Americans take our freedom of speech and press for granted. Do you think countries that have controlling governments, like Russia, will ever experience some sort of free speech or be able to post controversial content on social media?

    • Sasha says:

      Natalie, as long as such strict rules on posting content stay intact I think users’ freedom of speech will be extremely limited.

  5. Jaira says:

    Sasha,
    Thanks for the captivating blog post! I loved the meme of Putin because not only is it hilarious but it actually speaks to an important issue of censorship and oppression. The guest speaker Anna Kluyeva discussed how social media in the United States is a form of democracy whereas social media in Russia is a tool of oppression. I found it interesting how citizens are essentially having to provide all of their most private information to the government. I hope people keep making strides in privacy rights, and you are definitely doing your role simply by educating others on this topic.

  6. Sijie Li says:

    Sasha,
    Thanks for bring up so many interesting points from Anna Kluyeva. Since I’ve been working on my research paper about internet censorship in China, I’m pretty much familiar with the issue of censorship. So far, four countries including Iraq, Syria, China, and Iran interfered with or completely banned Facebook. I was really shocked that Russia has such strong and rigorous censorship although Facebook is not banned there. As to the paid bloggers who are working for posts of pro-Russia, it’s same in China too. The 50 Cent Party(translation)are Internet commentators hired by the government of the People’s Republic of China (both local and central) or the Communist Party to post comments favorable towards party policies in an attempt to shape and sway public opinion on various Internet message boards. The internet is strictly censored by the government no matter in Russia or in China.
    But I’m curious about the internte or social media in the United States. Is it 100% that there is no government censorship on media at all in the U.S.? Are people usually aware of this issue?

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