What’s New in Internet Freedom in Ukraine? Overview for March 25 – April 25, 2019

We regularly monitor incidents and violations of Internet freedom in Ukraine. The results of the monitoring with description are available on our website: netfreedom.org.ua. Please, note, most of the links refer to content published in Ukrainian.

Ukraine

Will Zelenskyi Unblock Russian Social Networks in Ukraine? Social networks became a platform for direct communication with the citizens of Ukraine for Volodymyr Zelenskyi, the winner of the Ukrainian presidential election. At the same time, the presidential candidate mostly ignored communicating with the journalists, did not give explanation on his program or the steps he will take if he is elected. Only shortly before the second round of voting he gave a large interview to RBK-Ukraine. In the interview, he spoke about his attitude to blocking Russian social networks in Ukraine and the strategy of communicating with voters online.

Photo Reuters

Does Volodymyr Zelenskyi think that blocking Russian websites and social networks is effective? Why is the idea of direct rule of the people only good during the election campaign? Read more on our website.

What Ukrainian Vkontakte Users Write About Elections in Ukraine – a Study by NGO “Internews Ukraine”. The biggest number of active Ukrainian users of Russian social network Vkontakte lives in Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts and Kyiv city. This is the data of the study Russian World and Elections in Ukraine: What They Talk About on Vkontakte carried out by NGO “Internews Ukraine”. Our analysts studied 1 million profiles of the Ukrainian segment of VK and almost 10 million posts in the period of November 1, 2018 – February 14, 2019.

Our conclusions: Vkontakte loses popularity in Ukraine but becomes more pro-Russian; there were more negative posts about all Ukrainian presidential candidates, which evidences that this social networks is rather ‘toxic’. There were the most positive posts about Zelenskyi and the most negative posts about Poroshenko.

Instagram – Number One Social Network for Ukrainian Youth. According to the study Instagram in Ukriane carried out by PlusOne company that covers the period until early March 2019, about 11 million Ukrainians use this social network. In 2018, the number of users grew by 50.7% – from 7.3 million to 11 million. Instagram is most popular among Ukrainians aged 18-24- 2.8 million of population of this age group use it. The move of young users of Facebook to Instagram is said to be associated with blocking of Russian social networks.

According to the study, Instagram grows much faster than Facebook. And the penetration rate of this social network will be much higher in Ukraine than in France or Germany already in 2019.

Advocacy Project to Improve the Legislation Started in Kyiv. In April 2019, NGO “Internews Ukraine” together with Ukrainian Foundation for Security Studies (UFSS) started a project called Green Book on Internet Governance and Information Policy in Ukraine as an Advocacy Instrument in Process of Decision Making. The key product of the project, the Green Book, will become a practical handbook when working on legislative initiatives and will allow lawmakers to understand the context of challenges in the sphere of Internet and informational space taking into account international practices in the democratic world.

The first work meeting on this project was attended by representatives from the Institute of Mass Information, Stopfake, CEDEM, IMS, Regional Press Development Institute, DSL, Hostmaster, and other organizations, as well as media lawyers and experts on privacy and information security. Read more about this project on the website.

Blocked Vkontakte Is One of the Five Most Popular Websites Among Ukrainian Users. The results for March 2019 show that blocked Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, and Yandex are once again in top 10 websites that are most popular among Ukrainians. The results of the study done by Factum Group were published by the Ukrainian Internet Association. Google, YouTube, and Facebook remain the leaders in top ten.

Russian social networks Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki that are blocked in Ukraine are on fifth and ninth place accordingly. The last in top ten comes Russian Yandex. The NDSC strengthened and prolonged sanctions against in for another three years in March, 2019. The rating of mail.ru continues to fall – it dropped to 16th place in March 2019.

Crimea

Providers Block 12 Ukrainian Websites and Social Networks in the Annexed Crimea – Monitoring. Ten providers in the occupied Crimea completely block 12 Ukrainian websites and two social networks, and 28 more websites are partially blocked. The results of the monitoring for February-March 2019 were published by the Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG).

Ten providers completely block 12 websites – Chornomorska broadcasting company, Censor.net, Sled.net, channel 5, 15 minutes, Focus, Depo, Ukrayinska Pravda, RBK, Ukrinform, Glavkom, Uainfo, and the websites of Hromadske radio and Glavnoye are blocked by 9 out of 10 providers. Two social networks are also blocked in Crimea, Telegram and LinkedIn. Human rights activists indicate the deterioration of the situation compared to the last year’s monitoring.

Facebook and the World

Zuckerberg Offered New Rules for Internet Governance. Founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg offered new rules for Internet governance in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.

“I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators. By updating the rules for the Internet, we can preserve what’s best about it — the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things — while also protecting society from broader harms,” Zuckerberg wrote.

The Council of the EU Has Approved the Final Version of the Controversial Copyright Reform. On April 15, the Council of the EU approved the Directive about copyright on the Internet. The new law will oblige Internet platforms to sign agreements with authors of content to use their work online. The goal of the copyright reform is to help authors get adequate compensation for all of their work.

The Directive includes two controversial articles – 15 and 17 – that oblige search engines and Internet platforms to receive permission from media to show their materials to the users. Also, each of the articles may facilitate the appearance of ‘filters for posting content’ on the platforms. Google and the Wikipedia criticized the Directive.

Read more about how the EU Directive will influence the Ukrainian Internet here.

Russia

Green Light for Runet Isolation: Law on Sovereign Internet Adopted in Russia. On April 16, the State Duma of Russia adopted the last reading the draft law on the so-called sovereign Internet. And on April 22, the draft law was supported by the Federation Council. Now, it remains for the President of Russia to sign the document. The expenses to implement the draft law are estimated at 30 billion rubles.

According to the authors of the draft law, “sovereign Runet will protect the Russian Internet from external threats” and create technical possibility for the Russian segment of the network to work autonomously from the world wide web. The activists and supporters of the free Internet strongly disapproved of the initiative.

The Law on Disrespecting the Authority Was Applied for the First Time Because of an Offensive Graffiti About Putin. Roskomnadzor and the Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s office applied the law on disrespecting the authority for the first time, demanding the news websites to delete the information about an offensive graffiti about Putin. It is about the news that appeared on Yaroslavl news website, Yarkub. It said that the obscene inscription about Putin was covered with paint, and the police started looking for the person who made it. The journalists perceived the demand of Roskomnadzor as an act of censorship.

More Blocking: Another Russian State Body Received the Right to Block Websites Without the Court Decision. Russian government allowed the Federal Youth Agency (Rosmolodyozh) to block online resources starting from April 2, 2019. Rosmolodyozh will be able to block websites if their information is inciting or intends to involve minors into crimes or actions that pose a threat for their life or health or life or health of other people. After Rosmolodyozh decision, Roskomnadzor will include such websites into the list of banned websites. To grant Rosmolodyozh the right to block websites, the Russian government amended the corresponding law that was enacted in December 2018. Read more here.

Roskomnadzor Demands that VPN Services Block the Banned Websites. In late March, Roskomnadzor demanded that 10 Russian VPN services block websites, citing the law that regulates operation of the VPN services in Russian that was adopted back in 2017. If the services do not comply with the requirements of Russian legislation, access to them might be limited. Only Kaspersky Laboratory that has its service called Kaspersky Secure Connection is ready to block the banned websites.

Russian Court Fined Twitter and Facebook for $46. A court in Moscow fined Twitter and Facebook for $46 for the refusal to localize personal data of the Russian users of the service, which means transfer the data on servers located in Russia. Google was one time fined for $7,500 for the same offense. Rosomnadzor gave Facebook and Twitter nine months so that the social networks would transfer personal data about Russian users to the territory of the Russian Federation. Alexander Zharov, the head of the Russian agency, hopes that they will not have to block the social networks in Russia.

Belarus

The Office of Polish Belsat TV Channel Was Searched in Minsk. The representatives of the Investigative Committee of Belarus searched the Minsk office of Polish Belsat channel on April 9. As a result, all of the storage devices – desktop and laptop computers and USB flash drives – were confiscated. The ceased equipment was returned to the journalists on April 11. The Investigative Committee informed that the searches were in relation with the investigation of a case on slander.

The Belsat team added that the case may be related to the article on corruption schemes in procurement of medical equipment that mistakenly mentions the head of the State Committee of Forensic Examinations. The journalists apologized for their mistake and published a retraction. Belarusian Journalists’ Association called to cancel criminal responsibility for slander and insult, close the case and return the equipment to the TV channel.

The overview has been written by NGO “Internews Ukraine”.

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