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China censors the internet. So why doesn’t Russia?

She wrote: “Foreign platforms in Russia must be shut down.”

Her choice of social network for sending that message: Twitter.

While the Kremlin fears an open internet shaped by American companies, it just can’t quit it.

Russia’s winter of discontent, waves of nationwide protests set off by the return of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has been enabled by the country’s free and open internet. The state controls the television airwaves, but online Navalny’s dramatic arrest upon arrival in Moscow, his investigation into President Vladimir Putin’s purported secret palace and his supporters’ calls for protest were all broadcast to an audience of many millions.

For years, the Russian government has been putting in place the technological and legal infrastructure to clamp down on freedom of speech online, leading to frequent predictions that the country could be heading toward internet censorship akin to China’s great firewall.

But even as Putin faced the biggest protests in years last month, his government appeared unwilling — and, to some degree, unable — to block websites or take other drastic measures to limit the spread of digital dissent.

The hesitation has underscored the challenge Putin faces as he tries to blunt the political implications of cheap high-speed internet access reaching into the remote corners of the vast country while avoiding angering a populace that has fallen in love with Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok.

“They’re afraid,” Dmitri Galushko, a Moscow telecommunications consultant, said of why the Kremlin hasn’t clamped down harder. “They’ve got all these weapons, but they don’t know how to use them.”

More broadly, the question of how to deal with the internet lays bare a dilemma for Putin’s Russia: whether to raise state repression to new heights and risk a public backlash or continue trying to manage public discontent by maintaining some semblance of an open society.

In China, government control went hand in hand with the internet’s early development. But in Russia, home to a Soviet legacy of an enormous pool of engineering talent, digital entrepreneurship bloomed freely for two decades, until Putin started trying to restrain online speech after the anti-government protests of 2011 and 2012. bdnews24.com

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