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The Sunday Show: Internet Freedom After the Invasion of Ukraine

Audio of this conversation is available via your favorite podcast service.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, governments and tech companies have taken swift action to limit the flow of propaganda out of Russia, and Russia has in turn taken draconian measures to limit the flow of information into Russia, including banning some Western social media platforms, crushing what remained of independent journalism in the country and cracking down on free expression generally.

How do these events fit in the broader scheme of things? The trajectory for global internet freedom and digital rights, just like the trajectory for democracy generally, has been going in the wrong direction for years. What do governments, organizations and the community of individuals concerned with these issues need to do to try to change that trajectory, and to support those working turn the tide?

To answer these questions and more, I invited three experts to join me for this week’s podcast

What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Justin Hendrix:

So Allie, I’m gonna start with you. You’ve written both for Tech Policy Press and then much more expansively in Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net report about moves by the Russian government to hive itself off from the rest of the world’s internet, or the Western internet. To what extent are the Russian moves over the last couple of weeks following that trajectory? And to what extent are they novel?

Allie Funk:

It’s a great question. What we’ve seen over the past three weeks has really been long in the making. President Putin and the Kremlin have really placed the groundwork for isolating Russia from the international internet for the past eight years or so. And they’ve done this through a number of different ways like going after that underlying infrastructure of the internet, passing repressive regulations, fine tuning the country’s censorship apparatus, and then just strong arming international tech companies to do their own bidding. 

And if we’re just going to zoom in on one of those, let’s take this sort of evolving regulatory environment in the country. An example from just February is this new landing law that requires companies to set up these legal entities in the country. So, forcing international companies to have either local offices or having staff in country creates a new point of leverage that the state can use to pressure companies to meet its demands. And it’s really clear how this has already played out in Russia. For folks who have been following the tech policy realm for a few months now, last September Apple and Google capitulated to government demands to remove a smart voting app that was created by Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader, amidst elections. A lot of us in the human rights and digital rights community really suspected that the companies made this decision after getting targeted threats against their in-country employees. And just over the weekend, the Washington Post confirmed these suspicions. So they reported that state agents showed up at the home of a Google employee and said that if you don’t remove this app within 24 hours we’re throwing you in jail. So that’s sort of how they’ve been able to strong arm companies into submission. 

And then just one other point that I think is key to the conversation that’s happening today around the war is how the state has propped up these domestic alternative platforms to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter over the years, and how domestic users have moved onto them. So two of the most popular social media companies are VKontakte and OdnoKlassniki. And you know, it’s not that Facebook and Twitter are these utopian platforms that always protect human rights. We all know that’s not the case. But the real difference here between some U.S based companies and some of these Russian platforms is that the Russian platforms are owned by Putin allies, or they comply more with repressive domestic laws. So it’s significantly less likely that Russian users are going to be able to find reliable information on VK, for example, and that they’re gonna be able to organize with sort of like-minded users. So long story short, you know, these developments aren’t surprising in my mind over the past three weeks, but I think what’s really interesting is that Putin has been able to more swiftly move towards cyber sovereignty in a matter of days than he has over the past five years.

Justin Hendrix:

We have also seen calls from some inside the Ukrainian government to expedite cutting Russia off from the web. I believe the minister for digital transformation had called to cut off various services there, including even Netflix. Ieems like we’ve ended up in a more reasonable place with regard to the way that at least Western social media firms, tech firms are approaching things but you know, the arm of the governments of certainly the European Union and the U.S. are still pretty strong in all this. Rebecca, you’ve written that less internet freedom in Russia  is ultimately not just bad for Russians, but bad for the world. What’s, what’s your perspective on what’s happened in the last couple of weeks?

Rebecca MacKinnon:

Well, thanks Justin. And, and thanks for organizing this podcast. You know, just building on many things that Allie said and what you just mentioned, there’s a lot of pressure on Western lawmakers and Western governments and companies based in the West to punish the invader, and to act righteously. And there’s lot of concern about disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks originating from Russia. And, and so there’s a great deal of pressure on companies to cut off Russia and some of that pressure is coming from a very effective lobby that the Ukrainian government and diaspora have mounted– understandably given what’s happening. Wikimedia Foundation has been part of a coalition including Access Now, Article 19, Center for Democracy and Technology, the Committee to Protect Journalists and a number of other civil society organizations who are saying, ‘let’s not over-correct here, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.’ 

There are sanctions that are being put in place, and we’re seeing some companies citing them as a reason to cut off services to the Russian people– not just the Russian government or state actors. And we need to be very careful not to cut off civil society. In Russia, there are a lot of platforms and channels for communication that are not yet blocked. Wikipedia is not blocked. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, but there are a lot of other messaging channels and, and less well known platforms that, that people are using to share facts and information. This is such a vital time. 

And of course, you know, the Russian people do not equal the Russian government. The Russian people need a lifeline to the outside world. They need the ability to communicate within Russia through channels that are not state run and it’s absolutely vital that we not forsake them. But another point is that we need to be really careful about how the countries and organizations and companies that are opposed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine respond to this, because it sets a precedent. If we’re saying it’s okay, when you, your country is in conflict with another country, to cut that country then we’re gonna see that happening– lots of governments are gonna use that as an excuse to require their companies to cut off services or cut off connections to other nation states, to networks in nation states with which they have disagreements. And that’s just going to hurt civil society, it’s going to hurt free and open society even more than the current trends that we’ve already seen, and as Allie has outlined. So we need to be very, very careful not to go overboard. Because just as well-meaning efforts to address disinformation get turned around and gaslit by authoritarians in ways that actually cut off civil society,  the same is going to be true with sanctions.

Justin Hendrix:

Justin, I wanna come to you and ask you about the way that perhaps Vladimir Putin is considering this situation. What do you think he sees from his perch in the Kremlin?

Justin Sherman:

Yeah, as Allie and Rebecca said, this is not something that happened overnight, right? Vladimir Putin has always been wanting to censor, wanting to control technology companies. When Putin first came into office, there were some members of the security services in Russia who were paying attention to the internet, thinking about the ways it could be used to undermine the regime, but that was not most people. And this was not really a priority. So you had some doctrines released and other things, but it wasn’t top of mind in the Kremlin to control the internet. Then you had a series of events over the next decade to decade and a half that really accelerated this fear that the internet was a foreign project and the internet was going to be used to undermine the Putin regime. So this is things like in the 2008 during the Russo-Georgian war, the Kremlin physically restricted access for journalists trying to get to the conflict zone.

But then they saw that people were using websites and micro or blogs to get out truthful information about what the Russian military was doing in Georgia. And so then all of a sudden you had this concern in the Kremlin, well, wait a minute, we can’t really control the narrative around this war. Then you had other things, right? Arab Spring protest against Putin, all to say, come, you know, 2013, 2014, Putin quite literally saw the internet as a foreign project and saw Western social media platforms, particularly as arms of the US government. And I think this is really important to stress, right? Because this is often brushed off as propaganda. The Russians just say ‘that’s true.’ There is propaganda value gained from these statements, but Putin quite literally sees it this way. And so as we’ve been talking about, when you have these platforms sometimes complying with sanctions sometimes of their own volition, restricting RT or trying to curtail act access for Russian citizens to online services, that just hardens that view in the Kremlin that these are foreign puppets.

And that sort of plays into that extremely conspiratorial and paranoid worldview. Obviously policy makers here in Washington would laugh at the thought that they can control social media because we can’t even regulate that correctly, but really that is the Kremlin view. And so that’s why I think, as we’ve been saying, in the coming weeks, in the coming months, you know, Putin’s paranoia around this is higher than it’s ever been. And so I think we can only expect more crackdowns, which range from the digital to, as Allie said, actually targeting technology company employees and contractors. We had the the Wikipedia moderator and grabbed up, right? And all these kinds of things.

Justin Hendrix:

I do wanna come to what this might mean specifically, Rebecca for an entity like Wikipedia. But Justin, really quickly, we’ve seen Putin just in the last couple days issue statements targeting the Russian diaspora– people who are outside of the country, but perhaps he feels have strayed from Russian values. That seems to me to really betray his mindset. He is looking at this almost as a purge or a cleansing of Russian society.

Justin Sherman:

Yes. So there’s a couple things here, right? So Putin is of the view that if you are ethnically Russian in some form, you are always Russian, right? This is part of the diluted argument for taking over Ukraine is that there are some Russians there and they belong in this idea of Russian empire and all of these things, but related, he also gets very angry when Putin, when he perceives people, he believes to be Russian, you know, betraying in his view, the Russian state. And so right now, something like protesting this war to your point is not just a threat to the regime. It is also in his view undermining the national interests of the Russian Federation. And so that sort of is literally an anger with which he brings to these kinds of decisions to crack down. As you said, on civil society and, and target, you know, people in, in BEUs and Ukraine and Eastern Europe in general, who he perceives to be engaged in that, that idea of betrayal.

Justin Hendrix:

Rebecca, with regard to Wikipedia and entities like it that to some extent are premised on the idea of an open web and premised on the free exchange of information and ideas, how do you deal with this situation? How do you continue to hopefully provide some service inside Russia? Are you able to do that?

Rebecca MacKinnon:

Well, we are currently accessible in Russia. That’s all I can say. And we hope to continue to be accessible. That said, our community is not changing the way it works in response to threats to publicly reported complaints about some of the content that has appeared on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a global movement of people who believe in the right to share knowledge. And when I say knowledge, that means of course information that is verified with sources that point to facts, right? Not just whatever content you wanna share, right. And there are rules around what is allowed in a given article or a given language Wikipedia or even a set of topics.

So, take for example, around COVID 19 medical topics: those are doctors and scientists who decide what sources are allowed to be cited on those pages and what are not. It’s not a government, it’s not the Wikimedia Foundation making centralized decisions. It’s the community drawing on local and specific expertise, determining what are sources of truth in that context and then setting rules and setting a content moderation process around that. And so topics related to Russia and Ukraine in the current situation are no different. The pages that appear on Wikipedia in relation to these topics are moderated according to the rules that have been set by the community for a long time that are based on a belief in verified sources, and that is not changing. We do have a problem where– not just over the past few years, this is a trend that’s been going on for a long while now– you have the rise of regulatory trends and a sort of aggressive policy from a number of states. Russia having been one recent example, a very aggressive example in which laws and regulations are used by governments seeking to control what truth is, or other organizations and entities or parties trying to control what truth is.

And, so that is a real challenge to a movement that believes that communities can come together and, based on some common values, have standards around truth and share that across borders. And to answer your question, how do we defend against that? I think part of it is just, again, there are people all across the world in every country who believe in the importance of sharing facts and truth. Who believe in the importance of not just sharing knowledge across borders, but contributing to it and really protecting the integrity of that knowledge. And this is a global belief and movement, and it does unfortunately seem to threaten those who are interested in promoting narratives that do not have a basis in verified facts.

And frankly, I think in the long term, how do you counter that? You build a movement, you build a global public understanding of why it is it’s in society’s interest, why it’s in the interest of our communities wherever we happen to live, to have access to facts, and to be able to contribute to that corpus of facts based on our context and our needs. And that is a universal human right, that everybody and every community is going to need to defend. It’s not something that the Wikimedia Foundation is going to be able to defend on high for people around the world. It’s up to people in communities around the world who care about the need for independently sourced and verified knowledge and why that’s important to their lives and that it needs to be defended everywhere. So, again we’re in a rough period right now, certainly. And there’s a lot of concern for the safety of, of many people  in many places at the moment. But we’re very much hoping that in the long run, communities everywhere will let their governments know that not having the right to access independently, independently verified and source knowledge, and to contribute to that corpus of knowledge, not being able to do that is unacceptable.

Justin Hendrix:

Allie, your group has of course tracked the movement towards more sort of authoritarian circumstance across the globe, the curtailing of digital rights. And while everybody on this call agrees with Rebecca about the importance of freedom of expression, and of course, access to facts, the tide seems to be going in the wrong direction. And it sort of feels like a worsening moment right now. Where do you see the kind of global picture in a year?

Allie Funk:

Yeah, I mean, predictions are a tough game to be in, but I don’t think it’s outlandish to say that I don’t think it’s going to get any better. I think it’s only going to get worse. You know, Russia in Freedom on the Net– the project I run for Freedom House where we analyze internet freedom in 70 countries around the world– is already pretty low in the report. And I think it’s safe to say it’s going to only decline further. But how I see it is that what we’ve been tracking over the past three weeks is an acceleration of a global trend that has been around for a few years, not necessarily the start of a newer one. So Russia isn’t the only country moving toward digital isolationism. China is really the obvious example, but you can also look at sort of Iran and what the government there has been able to effectively do over the past decade. And a more recent one is how the military in Myanmar took control of the digital space following the coup last year, and has tried to prop up their own intranet there and is blacklisting a lot of international sites. 

And part of the move toward digital isolationism is this sort of battle between the tech sector and the state that we’re talking about. And how the rights of internet users are taking the backseat and feeling the brunt of this battle. 

If we’re looking at a country that is not as authoritarian as Russia, you know, Nigeria is a really interesting case study. The government blocked Twitter because the platform deleted a tweet from the president that the company claimed threatened violence against a particular community. And in order for Twitter to come online, again, they had to agree to a whole slew of conditions including this local presence requirement that, you know, the government can then use to coerce Twitter to comply with politicized censorship or surveillance demands. So I think that’s only gonna get worse in the coming years. 

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And then I think this other really interesting element I’ve been thinking a lot about that Rebecca touched on earlier is how is the behavior of the EU and the US right now going to reverberate around the world, particularly the EU’s demands to block RT and Sputnik for EU based users. And one thing that Freedom House has tracked is how governments learn from each other. And particularly these more authoritarian states will point to actions of democratic governments to justify their own repressive actions. And if you look at the ways in which Germany and its NetzDG law was a model for censorship legislation around the world, that’s kind of the perfect example of this. So in thinking about how the EU government compelled platforms to geo block RT and Sputnik…, it’s obvious that these news outlets, if you can call them that, are essential components of the Russian propaganda apparatus. There’s no doubt. I don’t think anybody is saying that’s not the case. But to see how the EU compelled these companies to blockthese accounts in such a non-transparent manner is really alarming to me. And then even beyond that, it’s not just blocking these accounts, but going after ordinary users who are also sharing these links. It’s incredibly far reaching.

And the thing that I’m particularly concerned about is that we have only seen the legal order because Google forward it to the Lumen database. And I’m not a lawyer. I will say that upfront, but, you know, as Rebecca said, seeing how sanctions are being used to go after certain types of information is a really concerning development that we’ll need to watch closely so that we aren’t using sanctions then to overcorrect and then leaning in on censorship, because I’m really hesitant in thinking that censorship is an effective way to deal with disinformation here.

Justin Hendrix:

Justin given the nature of this conflict and the potential for ation, is there a worry that you know, the internet and digital communication generally will just become a more securitized space even in democracies?

Justin Sherman:

I think that is a real risk here. There are certainly lots of ways we can talk about how the internet and the internet policy are already securitized. Most US government investment in cyber security, for example, is concentrated in the military, and not protecting civilian and private sector and civil society orgs, for example. But I do think, as has been said, there is a real sudden ratcheting up of action against tech services, online content. And there’s also a desire, I think you know, coming from a good place, right? Seeing a horrible illegal war, the Russian government is blatantly carrying out war crimes. But this desire to feel like I can’t do everything, but I can do something, therefore I should do that something, right. 

The letter, for example, saying we should set up a multi stakeholder coalition to decide who gets disconnected from the internet that several internet governance folks signed. There’s certainly been plenty of heated debate about that to the point that why is this conversation only coming up now, certainly there have been plenty of past conflicts with disinformation where we could be having this conversation about protecting populations, right? Chemical weapons in Syria. You could pick any other number of examples. Genocide, as Allie mentioned, in Myanmar. And so there’s so much entangled there, but I do think the securitization thing is a problem. There are a lot of things being done very quickly under the guise of security. Some of that is security motivated for real. Some of that is convenient signaling, like pulling bandwidth out of Russia. (To be quite clear, I’m talking about a letter that is different from the letter that Rebecca mentioned). I think there’s just a lot of quick movement here and it is very much concerning.

Justin Hendrix:

Rebecca, do you wanna jump in on that?

Rebecca MacKinnon:

I guess one thing is that, as people have been discussing this, I think a number of people from the human rights space have raised is the importance that governments and companies, when considering actions need to take a step back from this reflexive ‘oh, I’ve gotta do something because I’m under pressure to do something’ and say, what type of action is necessary and proportionate? How can we think about human rights standards and do a quick human rights impact assessment as it were, or at least a bit of due diligence on what are the human rights implications across the internet for this action I’m going to take. Doing this analysis is so important. And it’s generally for the most part not happening. And some of us have been calling on governments and companies to include a human rights analysis in decision making of this type for a long time. But you know I wish that practice would somehow begin to take hold particularly in crisis situations where the human rights implications are potentially especially acute.

Justin Hendrix:

So I wanna turn a little bit, just zoom out a bit and talk about how the last couple of three weeks and these general trends that we’ve discussed may impact the situation in a couple of other countries. One of them I want to look at is China, and also India. You know, China is arguably already largely hived off from the Western internet– it’s somewhat porous, you know, of course– but do these recent events portend anything for the relationship to China and the way it may behave if in fact there’s a conflict that has to do with it at some point?

Rebecca MacKinnon:

I’m just going to say, I’m the daughter of a professor of Chinese history, and I’ve spent a lot of time in China. And the one thing I know about China is that anybody who makes a prediction about what’s gonna happen in China in the short to medium term, is someone you should not listen to. I see a thumbs up on the zoom here. And the one thing that you can predict about China is that every once in a while, something that nobody imagined would happen, will happen. And that’s pretty much the only thing you can count on. So it’s really hard to know how this is going to play out whether it has to do with Chinese internet policy or Chinese foreign policy and internal political dynamics generally. This entire situation clearly took the Chinese government by surprise. I’m putting kind of my general hat on here and taking off my Wikimedia hat on, and as someone who’s just followed China for a long time and kind of the implications, it’s gonna take a long time to, we have no idea, I think, how this is gonna play out with China.

Justin Hendrix:

Let’s move to India. India is somewhat caught in the middle, you know, but appears to be moving in and somewhat illiberal direction generally on matters of internet, digital freedoms, digital rights. It’s looking for more since control over the web, doing more regional shutdowns on the internet there. And in recent weeks, it seemed to be somewhat more cozy with regard to Putin than other democracies. Anything we can tell about its trajectory?

Allie Funk:

So I think India is a really interesting case because the geopolitics in the context are really, really different. And one of the main things that differentiates Russia and India when you’re talking about their internet space is that India is a democracy. And the ruling party has really broad support from folks in the country, and the prime minister, Modi, won in largely fair elections. And since then, he’s been able to so effectively cement the BJP rule and in doing so has overseen this large scale crackdown on human rights, particularly targeting the Muslim community in the country, and civil society and activists. And there’s large support for the party. 

So you mentioned the country leads on the number of internet shutdowns. I’ve even seen how party officials in China have pointed to India’s internet shutdowns to legitimize the Chinese government’s own actions, which I think is really alarming that they’ve used that as their case study. You know, India’s been implicated in many of the spyware revelations of late, it’s passed some really repressive regulations like the new IT rules that go after encryption, free expression, data protection, pretty much you name it. It’s one of the most comprehensive laws I think in the world right now. 

And what sort of makes India a little bit different than when you’re comparing it to the Russian context is that India is the second largest market for internet users, and international companies that aren’t operating in China really don’t wanna lose their access to the Indian market. India, for instance, is WhatsApp’s biggest market. So the BJP has been able to effectively use that to force the companies to comply with some of the censorship demands that we’ve seen of late.

And the government hasn’t gone toward wholesale banning of Twitter, Facebook, or WhatsApp, like you’ve seen sort of in Russia, but we do know that the Indian state is willing to do that because back in June 2020, they blocked a ton of social media platforms owned by Chinese companies like WeChat and TikTok. 

So long story short, I always call India this bellwether for internet freedom and internet governance. Because of its democracy status, it is so effective at normalizing digital repression as sort of a legitimate policy response and creating this playbook that other backsliding democracies want to follow.

Rebecca MacKinnon:

You might not know this, but the second largest number of contributions to English Wikipedia from any country is from India. So that COVID 19 related article you may have checked out for some purpose in the past month? Some chunk of it could have been written by a doctor living in India. So I mean, one thing to just point out is that the people of India who are online– and of course there’s still a lot who aren’t, or not meaningfully– but people from India who are online are a huge part of the free knowledge movement and more generally the online ecosystem as we know it today. And so again, lots of things to be concerned about in terms of regulatory and legal trends in India that I don’t need to repeat because, Allie described them quite well.

But it is also a very complex society with, again, a lot of people who believe very passionately in participating in global knowledge, fact-based projects and movements and being part of the global conversation, to be part of the sharing of knowledge across borders and to the benefit of their own communities and to help people everywhere. And so again, as we think about where the world is going, that’s the good news story, and let’s figure out how to support and empower that.

Justin Hendrix:

It is good to as we kind of round things up to have something positive to look at in this particular moment. But I want to, I wanna kind of turn to some last thoughts and, and just maybe ask each of you to provide something that you’re watching right now, something that you think is an indicator of, of where things might head with regard to this overall conversation we’re having on freedom digital rights freedom on the net. So maybe Justin, could I start with you?

Justin Sherman:

Sure. And I’ll make two comments on sort of indicators before I list what I’ll be looking for. So one is, I think we’ve talked about is it’s important not to take agency away from other actors, right. Especially, you know, living in the us. And that’s what a lot of us unfortunately are taught to do, right, when we talk about this. And so there is that argument, right? The Russian government’s going to do some of these things anyway, or wanted to do some of these things anyway, but I think we have to remember, it’s much more nuanced than that, as Rebecca said from the outset. Things we do create precedents. They will get referenced by other states to take certain actions. So there is that issue yet you can also do or frame things in certain ways that play more or less into another actor’s wishes.

And I think that’s really something that a lot of companies are not grasping here. For example, Facebook being a bit ahead of others and being a bit more pro-Ukraine. So, ‘we support the Ukrainian people. This is terrible.’ You know, I don’t know if that was the right way to phrase that, right? Like there are certain things you can do with Putin to play more or less into that. So that’s just one thing. The other thing I’ll say before going into the indicators is that the Russian government has talked for years about this domestic internet and has not really gotten there. There have been a bunch of repressive decrees. There have been a bunch of you know, surveillance moves, but a lot of it stalled. They have not, as of last Spring, been able to effectively throttle websites. They did a crap job throttling Twitter, because any website that ended in t.co got blocked. So it turns out there’s quite a few websites with.com that end in T. The data localization rules that have been in place since 2015, basically every major foreign company on the planet just ignores them and pays these tiny fines because the Kremlin hasn’t made it a priority. 

So there’s all this stuff. And then it’s different from China, too, right? They don’t have the tech capacity. The architecture of the internet is very different. China started with nationalized four, I think, or five core backbones versus in Russia where there are hundreds, if not thousands of internet providers. It is an extremely diffused network. And so there’s sort of that thing as well, that to some extent Russia’s lowered technical capacity, vis a vis China, its emphasis on coercion, on harassment, on confusing speech laws on local office laws, make it kind of a different model for internet repression.

And I think that’s one thing to watch as Allie said, is we see this sort of rise more globally. All to say, that was long winded. But I think watching Putin’s rhetoric is really important. The escalation in the past few weeks, the hearing this coming Monday to designate Facebook, or Meta, as a terrorist organization– which is symbolic, but by the way, a lot of Russian rights and speech suppression in law is based in the term extremism. So that actually would enable all kinds of crackdowns on Facebook-affiliated groups, even prolific Facebook posters in Russia. So I would watch that. And then I’d also watch any Kremlin targeting as was mentioned– of employees, of contractors, of other people tied to the free speech Western internet community.

Allie Funk:

I’m happy to hop in next. So there are two things I’m thinking about. One is quick. I really want to know what’s going on with Telegram. We know so little about the platform’s content moderation, how they use or hand over people’s data, and what they’re doing with state controlled content. So I would just love to know a little bit more about how Telegram is handling this or not handling it. 

But I think one of the big indicators I’m watching is which internet companies are going to pull out of the country and which ones are going to be blocked by the state. I’m particularly looking at YouTube because a lot of Russian platforms are more text based. The state hasn’t been as effective at creating or propping up video and image based platforms that, you know, could replace things like Instagram, TikTok or YouTube. RuTube has tried, but I think there’s like 3 million viewers in Russia or something compared to, you know, 80 million on YouTube. So if YouTube is going to be blocked, I think that is even more of an escalation of censorship than what we’re seeing with Facebook and Twitter, just given the importance of the platform in the country. That’s one thing I’m looking for.

Justin Hendrix:

Rebecca, final word to you.

Rebecca MacKinnon:

I’m gonna end this on a positive note. I mean, we’re watching all kinds of things, but I’m gonna talk about the stuff I’m watching that gives me hope, which includes all the organizations that are tracking and documenting evidence for future use, using the Internet Archive, preserving information that  is becoming inaccessible in different ways. The networks of people who are debunking deep fakes in ways that are making it much harder, I think, than in the past for disinformation to just kind of blanket go unquestioned in many communities – perhaps not all, but at least  in ways that I think, make a real difference. The independent journalism networks who despite being kicked out of or blocked in Russia and elsewhere continue to operate against all odds. The number of people coming together whether they’re in the region that is directly affected or just coming together in support is real.

It’s going to make a big difference. I think policy makers and all of us need to be thinking harder about how to strengthen and support that, because that is the antidote, that is the immune system, if we’re going to get through this period. Which I agree is going to be rough for a while.

Justin Hendrix:

Well, on that optimistic note, or I should say perhaps what’s the right word for that. I feel like that’s a kind of note of solidarity. I’ll thank each of you for joining me today. And for speaking about these things.

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