Kremlin tightens control over Russians’ online lives – threatening domestic freedoms and the global internet

Since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine in late February 2022, Russian internet users have experienced what has been dubbed the descent of a “digital iron curtain.”

Russian authorities blocked access to all major opposition news sites, as well as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Under the new draconian laws purporting to combat fake news about the Russian-Ukrainian war, internet users have faced administrative and criminal charges for allegedly spreading online disinformation about Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Most Western technology companies, from Airbnb to Apple, have stopped or limited their Russian operations as part of the broader corporate exodus from the country.

Many Russians downloaded virtual private network software to try to access blocked sites and services in the first weeks of the war. By late April, 23% of Russian internet users reported using VPNs with varying regularity. The state media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has been blocking VPNs to prevent people from bypassing government censorship and stepped up its efforts in June 2022.

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