How behavior on social networks is being controlled in Russia

The monitoring of teacher and journalist accounts on social networking sites is still not an official policy. Public officials are less fortunate, however.

The monitoring of teacher and journalist accounts on social networking sites is still not an official policy. Public officials are less fortunate, however.

Pavel Lisitsyn/RIA Novosti
Recently, the Russian Library Association, consisting of more than 500 libraries, created a document entitled “Rules for Library Employee Behavior on Social Networkings Sites.” How else is social media being controlled in Russia, and who has already faced consequences as a result of online posts?

For five years, 21-year-old Maria Shestopalova had been teaching pop singing at the Number 4 Center of Supplementary Education in the city of Krasnoyarsk (more than 4,000 km east of Moscow). On Dec. 19, 2016, Timur Bulatov called the school and introduced himself as a member of the First Moral Russian Front, an organization that does not officially exist. He told Shestopalova that she was not fit to work as a teacher.

Using the young lady's photographs and posts from her profile on VKontakte (a Russian-language social networking site) Bulatov compiled a 31-page document. After making the call to the school, he sent this material to the school director, the local prosecutor and the city administration. In this document, Bulatov accused the teacher of promoting homosexuality and an unhealthy lifestyle because she was a member of online communities that promoted alcohol and had posted photographs of herself holding beer and appearing very drunk.

At the end of the document, Bulatov demanded that Shestopalova be fired for not meeting the requirements of the Federal State Education Standard (FSES), despite the fact that these standards do not mention the issue of teacher behavior on social media or the Internet.

On the following day, the director of the school asked Shestopalova to resign. On her Pikabu profile page (in Russian), she wrote that she had been blackmailed and informed by the school that if she refused to resign it would reflect badly on the school's reputation, as well as on her and her parents.

Only three days later, Shestopalova was offered her job again. She told RBTH that she returned to the school only to resign again two weeks later.

"It was unpleasant to work there because I knew that I could be set up again. The atmosphere was really unfriendly and the teachers didn't support me because they were afraid of losing their jobs," she said.

Shestopalova is currently working at a private music school and says she regrets that "people who occupy important positions can react seriously to such foolery."

Sacked for sarcasm

A similar case involved Andrei Grishin, the editor-in-chief of the city-funded newspaper, Vecherny Magadan, in the city of Magadan (located 10,200 km east of Moscow). On his Facebook page, he criticized the behavior of the Russian representative to the UN Security Council, Vladimir Safronkov, who had addressed the British representative in an extremely informal manner.

Grishin compared Safronkov to a gopnik, which is a slang term for a person with low social status, who lacks education and moral values, and is often thought of as a low-level criminal. Grishkin had suggested that diplomats might as well wear Adidas jogging suits tucked into pointy shoes and squat while eating sunflower seeds, which describes the stereotypical dress and behavior of a gopnik.

The following day, Grishin was called into the local administration office and asked to resign from his position. Grishin believes that such monitoring of activity and dismissals on the basis of social media posts only aggravate the situation.

"The government is going to extremes trying to maintain control of what the majority thinks, but it knows it is losing its grasp. I think that attempts to put pressure on people will increase, but this will lead only to the deterioration of the situation in the capital and the regions," Grishin commented following his dismissal. In the future, he plans to open his own independent news agency.

A ban on social media sites for those under the age of 14

While some adults have lost their jobs as a result of social media posts, a group of legislators is trying to ban access to social networking sites for children. In April, a bill was introduced to the State Duma that would forbid children under the age of 14 from using social media. If passed, this legislation would require a passport to register on all social networking sites. In Russia, passports are only given to citizens at the age of 14, so any children under that age would be barred from using such sites.

According to a survey organized by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), 62 percent of Russian citizens supported this law. However, when informed that all Russians would have to register with their passports, not only those under 18, the number of people who disagreed with the bill rose from 35 to 52 percent.

It now seems that this bill will not pass. According to RBC, a Russian media group, sources in the State Duma doubted the necessity of such a bill. Press Secretary to the Russian President, Dmitri Peskov, said that the provisions of the bill are "not very realistic."

New rules for librarians

The monitoring of teacher and journalist accounts on social networking sites is still not an official policy. Public officials are less fortunate, however. Since July 1, 2016, state employees have been required to provide links to all posts and messages made on social media and the Internet.

Librarians may encounter similar monitoring as a result of the Russian Library Association’s new policy Rules for Library Employees' Behavior in Social Networks.

In accordance with this document, librarians will have to refrain from making "strong statements of any nature on issues concerning politics, nationality, sexual orientation or religion on social networking sites." The document claims that journalists may perceive such posts as statements that represent the library and not as the opinions of private individuals. These rules also state that the library director has the right to control the activities of employees on social media and that those found in violation may be rebuked, reprimanded or dismissed.

Lawyers see a problem with such restrictions. Igor Gretzky, a graduate student at the Kutafin Moscow State Law University and a member of the Association of Russian Lawyers familiarized himself with the document at the request of RBTH. According to him, such restrictions cannot be imposed by an employer in order to control employee behavior, because this contradicts the Russian constitution.

In Gretzky's words, the monitoring of the private lives of employees, including their posts on the Internet and social media, is discrimination and is forbidden by Article 3 of the Russian Labor Code. He says that such regulations cannot be applied to online posts that are made while an employee is not at work.

"When employees are off the clock, they are free from the responsibilities of professional duties and can use this time according to their discretion. Therefore, no disciplinary action can be taken in this regard," Gretzky concluded.

Several days following the publication of this document, it was removed from the organization's website. Ekaterina Shibaeva, the coordinator of the Libraries and Social Media Association working group, refused to comment on the situation. Her secretary told RBTH that the establishment of such rules is still being discussed.

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