On the lookout for social media
September 15, 2011
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military cooperation body consisting of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, has announced that it will start controlling social networks to avoid the unrest seen in the Arab world.
From The Moscow News:
Sources in the organization, which includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, say that “there is no talk about censorship or about fighting dissidence,” Izvestia reported on Tuesday.
“Experts of the highest level” are already working on this, the source added.
“The thing is, in the modern environment there is an infrastructure that allows for creating destabilizing situations in any, even the most trouble-free country. Mobile connections, social networks, even NGOs when needed, could be used for these aims.”
“With the use of internet bots a negative environment is created surrounding one of the country’s leaders. The internet-users then think that everyone thinks like this. For example, that Gaddafi has to leave, that he is a scoundrel, a criminal and a thief,” Korovin said.
In this case the people will feel dissonance with the authorities. “It creates grounds for mass riots, a background for displacing a certain political regime,” he said.
He argued that this scenario was the most threatening for those who have to balance their relations between Russia and the West.
After the Arab Spring and the much-discussed role of the Internet and social media, we’ll see more and more of this Internet panic and knee-jerkism (from suggestions in Britain to shut down social networks after the London riots to this kind of blame-the-Internet-bots-rather-than-the-tyrants approach). And as Evgeny Morozov warned recently, much of this increased surveillance could be done with Western technologies:
As countries like Belarus, Iran and Myanmar digest the lessons of the Arab Spring, their demand for monitoring technology will grow. Left uncontrolled, Western surveillance tools could undermine the “Internet freedom” agenda in the same way arms exports undermine Western-led peace initiatives. How many activists, finding themselves confronted with information collected using Western technology, would trust the pronouncements of Western governments again?
In a recent commentary for RFE/RL, Roger McDermott highlighted the CSTO’s growing interest in the "information space."
Kazakhstan‘s President Nursultan Nazarbaev spoke of the need to build an "impregnable wall" to prevent any spillover of such revolutions in Central Asia. In a keynote speech during the informal summit, the Kazakh leader suggested that an unregulated information space posed "threats to regional security and stability in the CSTO member states, especially in light of the latest developments in the world."
Very little of this discussion is featuring in the public arena, but according to Bordyuzha, the CSTO plans to develop a systematic approach to counter "cyberterrorism." He stated that the CSTO currently conducts operations in cyberspace, which detect a number of websites "working against the state." By December 2011, a high-level expert working group will present its findings on how the CSTO can develop this new approach. "As you see, no troops, terrorist groups, insurgents, or political organizations are required to destabilize the situation in the country by using information technologies," Bordyuzha said. "The work on information counteraction is one of the priorities of the CSTO’s activity."
Digital activists probably need not worry too much, though. The CSTO doesn’t have the best record for actually doing very much — apart from holding military exercises now and again. The body was widely criticized for not intervening during the ethnic violence that took place in Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.
Most of the countries in the CSTO already do their fair share of Internet censorship anyway. Each approaches the issue differently (for example, lots of censorship, heavy filtering in Uzbekistan, much less in Kyrgyzstan) and utilizes different tactics/tools, so it’s hard to see how "the high-level expert group" will be able to come up with much that could be employed by all of the CSTO countries and applied to their divergent web spaces.