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Russian volunteer army to fight 'dangerous content' online

The League of Internet Safety is deadly serious

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The call is going out in Russia for a new volunteer army to combat the menace of "negative" content on the internet.

First in its sights is the usual enemy of all right-thinking people - child abuse material - but critics fear that once up and running the newly launched League of Internet Safety will cast its net much more widely.

The initiative kicked off, according to a report in Radio Free Europe on Tuesday, at a news conference held to mark this year's International Internet Safety Day.

The League has powerful backers with support from Russia's three major mobile providers - Mobile TeleSystems, VimpelCom, and Megafon - as well as the state telecom company Rostelecom. Its board of trustees is headed by Communications and Press Minister Igor Shchyogolev, who explained how thousands of volunteers, or "simple people", would monitor the internet and tell the league when they see "dangerous content".

Another trustee, children's ombudsman Pavel Astakhov, called on internet users themselves to refrain from putting anything "negative, extremist, disgusting, or dangerous" online.

With the internet widely recognised as the freest medium in Russia today, bloggers, who have increasingly been involved in campaigning on issues that brings them into conflict with the government are naturally suspicious.

Russia has a long history of censorship, commencing with the Tsars in the 19th century. This continued after the revolution, with the establishment in 1922 of the central censorship office, Glavlit, which was attached to the Council of Ministers of the USSR.

At the time of its abolition, under perestroika ("reconstruction") in the late 1980s, Glavlit's collection of banned books contained around 27,000 Russian books, 250,000 foreign books, 572,000 issues of foreign magazines, 8,500 annual sets of foreign newspapers and 8,000 publications.

The brief thaw during the period of glasnost ("openness") seems now to be being replaced by a slow but inexorable return to the bad old days, with a serious focus around the upholding of traditional Russian values: it is in this context that calls to end "negative" comment must be seen.

Sceptics may cheer when Russian authorities use the law to clamp down on Scientology, as happened last year, on the grounds that is undermines "the traditional spiritual values of the citizens of the Russian Federation".

However, this is all one with the call by the state prosecutor's office, in 2008, to create a new national agency to fight online extremism. ®

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