Russian bloggers may be forced to register as media representatives

Arguably the most popular Russian blogger, Ilya “zyalt” Varlamov. Source: ITAR-TASS

Arguably the most popular Russian blogger, Ilya “zyalt” Varlamov. Source: ITAR-TASS

The Russian parliament is planning to pass a bill which would make it mandatory for information in popular blogs to be checked and would force the authors to reveal their real identities. Experts say this is an attempt by the authorities to take control of the internet.

The Russian parliament is planning to pass a bill which effectively assimilates bloggers into the mass media. If the bill passes into law, information on popular blogs will have to be checked for accuracy, and the authors will have to reveal their real identities. Experts argue that this is an attempt by the authorities to take control of the internet.

Who is a blogger?

The definition of a "blogger" appears in the legislative framework. Members of parliament want to include in this category anybody who receives more than 3,000 visits a day to their personal websites or social network pages, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency. Roskomnadzor will develop a special program to track the number of visits.

If the document is approved and signed by the president, it will oblige “bloggers” to notify the supervisory authority in the field of communications and media (Roskomnadzor) about the commencement of their activities disseminating information on the internet, and will also require them to store data regarding information transfers on the internet for six months. The new law will not apply to citizens who use these kinds of websites for personal, domestic and family reasons. 

At the same time, those who fall into the “blogger” category will be included in a special register, and will be able to make money from advertising. Alexei Mitrofanov, head of the State Duma committee on information policy and one of the authors of the bill, said that in the future there might be a separation of bloggers into categories depending on the number of webpage visitors. The categories are “blogger”, “super-blogger” and “star-blogger”.

If the law is passed and blogs end up having to be registered within a special state structure, it will oblige the owners of online diaries to check the accuracy of the information posted, to follow rules regarding elections and campaigns, to avoid disseminating information about the private lives of citizens, not to spread extremist material and to specify an age limit for users. Once the blog reaches 3,000 readers, the authors will be required to disclose their real names and surnames. In this respect, blogs will be no different from mainstream media outlets.

For violation of the specified requirements there will be a penalty: for individuals a fee from 5,000 to 10,000 rubles ($145 to $290), for legal entities – a fee from 10,000 to 50,000 rubles ($290 to $1450). Violators who repeatedly disobey the instructions prescribed by Roskomnadzor will have to pay a fee of 500,000 rubles ($14,000) or abstain from posting blog entries for 30 days.

How to check for accuracy

TV journalist Nikolai Svanidze believes that the bill is an attempt by state authorities to control the internet sphere.

"This is straight-out pressure on freedom of speech. Any famous person can easily get 3,000 readers, and has to practically behave like the media. But the question is – how can an unprofessional journalist verify information? This is unclear,” the expert explains.

“He can say that he has read something in a magazine or heard something from a neighbor. You cannot force a person, an unprofessional journalist, who does not have the skills to verify this kind of information, to vouch for this information under threat of punishment.”

The journalist is sure that such a law will be difficult to execute, and, as a result, it will be enforced selectively. "Laws that are difficult to execute are dangerous, because nobody knows at what point they will suddenly be applied, it's like the ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over any random blogger,” he said.

Photographer Ivan Dementievsky is constantly blogging and his blog is read by more than 6,000 people. If the law is adopted, he will become legally considered a representative of the mass media. At the same time he believes that this document will raise the profile of bloggers.

"An official assimilation of bloggers into the mass media will definitely influence public opinion; we will be trusted more,” explains Dementievsky.

The photographer is absolutely convinced that those who publish information on the internet have a responsibility to verify that information. "I often see mindless reposts of completely false information online, and sometimes people write nonsense themselves,” says the blogger.

“Maybe some people will perceive the news as a negative thing, and I understand them, but if this law will reduce the amount of misinformation on the internet, it's good. I, personally, will be involved in this to a lesser extent because I do not write on political issues, and these are the spheres where the real information wars are taking place.”

As for registering with Roskomnadzor, Dementievsky is worried only about how complicated the whole procedure will be. "Unfortunately, we are all accustomed to the fact that various bureaucratic delays in our country have become our reality. If the registration is not extremely time-consuming and does not take up much effort, then why not register?”

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