Shortwave, Shortwave Soapbox

Russia and the Internet


At the risk of sounding redundant, another article about Internet control has motivated me to once again emphasize the importance of shortwave radio. An article at ECN magazine gives an excellent report about Russia’s attempts to control the flow of information available to Russian citizens. While I will not reproduce the whole article here, I will highlight a few of the more salient points, and encourage you to read the full article entitled, “Kremlin Sets Out To Extend Control Over The Russian Internet” available here.

—— Galina Timchenko recalls how proud she felt when the Russian news website she edited reached 3 million users per day. When she reported the figures to the website’s owner, he was horrified. “At that moment something snapped inside and I understood that this is the end, because there cannot be such an influential resource that is not controlled by the Kremlin,” Timchenko said.

A month later, she was fired and a more Kremlin-friendly editor was brought in to run the website, The shakeup at last year came as the government was pushing through a slew of new laws to strengthen its control over the Internet, which President Vladimir Putin has described as a “CIA project.”

—— In 2014, Putin signed a bill allowing authorities to ban any online content deemed “extremist.” Critics of the law have said it is so loosely worded it is difficult to tell what content is actually deemed extremist and therefore is open to abuse by authorities simply seeking to ban content they don’t like. Another restrictive law passed in 2014 requires bloggers with more than 3,000 followers to register as media organizations. Several opposition websites accused of extremism have been blocked altogether, including that of former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, a harsh critic of Putin now in exile.

—— When the military conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, Russia deployed a new method to influence the flow of information on the Internet. In what has been dubbed a “hybrid war,” new websites and social media accounts were set up to flood the Internet with information, blurring the lines between reality and fiction.

“Everyone was surprised how quickly the Kremlin changed tactics with this conflict,” said Andrei Soldatov, the other co-author of “The Red Web,” who has studied the Internet and the Russian security services for more than a decade.

“When Russia has faced problems with its neighbors in the past, different tactics were used: DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks against Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania, and so on,” he said. “Everyone expected something similar in Ukraine, but it never happened. Instead we got these attacks of trolls.”

When I read something like this article I get stirred up because I do not believe a lot of folks realize how controllable our modern social media and Internet access is, and how susceptible is the Internet to regulation and shutdown. I have only limited experience with Internet communications outside of the U.S. back when the Internet was in its infant stages. Like most of us my experience comes from a Western-centric, more specifically U.S.-centric perspective, and we assume the Internet will be available 24/7 to anywhere in the world. We can hardly conceive of not being able to “connect” with folks any time we want.

Setting aside the frailty of the the Internet as it concerns natural and man-made disasters, governments can “pull the plug” whenever they want to, or exercise control over what is allowed in and out of a country. Are there holes and leaks in such controlled systems? Of course. Just as no system is perfect, neither is any monitoring system perfect for trying to control or restrict/block access.

Back to my original point. This article demonstrates yet again how news and information sources from outside any country is vital, including our own. The only reliable access is that which cannot be controlled or blocked, and this brings us back to RF sources, specifically shortwave radio (and to a lesser extent, amateur radio). Short of putting a country inside of a Faraday cage, governments cannot block all signals coming into a country from the atmosphere. They can jam, they can search, they can block known frequencies here and there, but they cannot prevent all signals from coming in.

Shortwave radio is like sunlight — it is always coming through somewhere around the world every moment of every day. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.” Let’s do what we can to keep the lights on, shall we?!  73, Robert

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