The ever-present controversy over traditional and social media in Russia is just another problem that the country is facing under Putin. In January of this year, the Russian Parliament passed a law that allows undesirable websites to be blocked quickly. An opinion piece in New York Times written by Nikola Kanonov talks about a new victory of Putin, as the biggest social network in Russia was sold to businessmen who have close ties with Kremlin. VKontakte was started by Pavel Durov in 2006, following Mark Zuckerberg’s idea for Facebook. Just like Facebook, VKontakte was initially a student web forum that eventually expanded. According to the author, Mr. Durov’s vision was that the internet should have total freedom for the distribution of information and that’s what he tried to incorporate in his network. VKontakte has 60 million daily users and is the largest social network in Russia, and one of the largest in Europe. However, in 2011 VKontakte started receiving calls to shut down an anti-Putin group and other similar ones. Later on, after a series of legal issues, the state prosecutor launched a criminal investigation of Mr. Durov, with the pretext that he had run over a policeman with his car. Thus, he was forced to leave Russia, only to come back months later, after the investigation was closed, and to sell his shares to loyal businessmen of Kremlin, right before the Olympics started.
This whole situation just shows how the freedom of speech in Russia is not respected at all. The government dictates what is said in traditional and social media, which ultimately leaves people uninformed or gives them biased information. The fact that the social network was bought by these businessmen during a time when the whole world had its eyes towards Russia, makes it even more concerning. It raises the question of how informed Russian citizens are. Considering that even brave and progressive inventors like Mr. Durov had to finally give in to Putin’s regime is really concerning. It is interesting to know how realistic the information the Russians receive is, especially during crucial times like these past few weeks with the conflict in Crimea. The only strong neutral and realistic source of news is no longer unbiased and that just brings even more questions regarding the legitimacy of the Russian government.