Russia’s recent move to slow down the Twitter platform was a sign of Moscow’s resolve to confront Silicon Valley, as well as a test of its new sovereign internet infrastructure that is less dependent on Western tech companies.
Exercising greater control over foreign social networks became more urgent for the Kremlin after supporters of opposition activist Alexei Navalny used them. Alexey Navalny To hold nationwide protests in January.
Moscow has threatened to block Twitter if the platform does not delete 3,168 tweets dating back to 2017 saying it encourages illegal activities.
The warning came after President (Vladimir Putin) said: Society collapses from within if the Internet is not subject to formal legal rules and society’s moral laws.
Acting against big tech companies carries its own risks, as last month’s move to slow Twitter caused websites of the Kremlin, the Russian parliament and many government agencies to stop operating, highlighting Moscow’s dependence on foreign internet infrastructure.
The sovereign internet, which is a parallel network running across Russian servers, is intended to have the technology to selectively restrict access to blocked content without the risk of collateral damage.
Russian observers say they learned the lesson from an attempt to block the messaging app Telegram in 2018, which shut down more than 16 million unrelated websites, while the messaging app’s audience increased from 10 million to 30 million.
The restrictions on Twitter represent the first significant use of the sovereign internet through a technology known as deep packet scanning, which theoretically gives observers the ability to filter out individual pages without stopping thousands of others along with it.
Initial results show that there may be kinks in the system, and the slowdown appears to have plagued many sites that use their t.co domains, which Twitter uses for shortened web addresses.
Russia still cannot control every server that Twitter uses because it has different servers for its content delivery network around the world.
And the threat to block social networks completely – as Moscow did with LinkedIn in 2016 – has not spurred Silicon Valley giants to comply with Russia’s laws on localization of data and restricted content.
Facebook and Google are also not vulnerable to the kind of pressure that Russia has put on domestic tech companies.
And Russian search engine Yandex gave the Kremlin a veto against its administration if US-based investors tried to gain control.
Broadcasting platform Ivi has reportedly halted initial public offering (IPO) plans after lawmakers moved to curb foreign funding for online entertainment sites.
Russia is also unable to gain a strong foothold on platforms like YouTube, as Navalny has more subscribers than state television networks.
Russia hopes that the threat of an embargo backed by its new technology will force Silicon Valley to comply with its laws.
Roscomnadzor said last week that Twitter had removed a third of the tweets it reported, although it complained that the platform was doing so at an unsatisfactory rate.
And if a sovereign internet makes accessing Western websites cumbersome enough, it could have the desired effect.