Early last week, a Russian official threatened to restrict/ban Twitter and Facebook in the country if the businesses didn’t abide by Russian laws. It’s not just the businesses themselves, either. But the users, too. If a user posts something that goes against Russia’s newest laws, like speaking about homosexuality, the business may be barred from the country.
It’s a sketchy line between open communication and restricted access in parts of the East.
And it’s not the first cause of a nation restricting Twitter and Western social media. Turkey recently attempted to eliminate tweeting and faced a harsh backlash to the point the service was slowly restored. So is Russia’s threat empty? And a better question is how do Russian technology-based businesses feel about the threat?
You probably won’t be surprised.
Quartz posted a translation of Hope & Fear’s findings in an online survey. Hope & Fear is a Russian online magazine that discusses business. Nastya Chernikova's research offers an interesting perspective into the interworkings of social media as a business.
Majority of the Russian websites affiliated with the government are in favor of the action. After all, blocking industry leaders would force people to connect with Russian owned services. LiveInternet, Russian equivalent of Craiglist, founder German Klimenko dismisses the importance of Twitter in the company’s business, saying “it has no role in our business turnover” since only teens use the service. He believes that “we should recognize that the more harshly the government treats foreign companies, the better things will be for their Russian counterparts.”
He continues by discussing Russian based social media’s usage in comparison to Western. “Facebook has about 15% of all visits on RuNet [the Russian-language internet], and Twitter has 5%. So they’ll go to VKontakte, LiveJournal, or somewhere else. If we look at how other countries behave, we see that regulation there is often more stringent.”
Of course, there is a sticking point in all of this. Live Journal is owned by SUP Media, a Russian online business. Users of the site, both Russian and international, often find themselves targets of DDOS attacks and lack of honest communication from the company owners. What will happen to Live Journal if the Russian government starts to block companies since only half of the site is based on Russian elements? The common language for users for the site is English since the site originated in the United States. Live Journal, or LJ as it’s also known, houses Oh No They Didn’t—one of the biggest gossip blogs on the web.
How would the company handle losing such a well-known online brand?
Even Klimenko notes “the only ones who suffer will be those who work on both sides [of the border].” And according to Vitaly Bykov, director of ad agency RedKeds, there is a bonus feature for the Russian business owners if Facebook leaves. “It could well reduce our revenue for a brief period.” He continues, “It will also mean less work, so we can go on vacation.” Without needing English translators, companies would save time and money.
The answers aren’t unexpected, but do showcase the difference in American and Russian social media needs. Of course, veterans of social media remember that things rarely turn out as planned, so perhaps a little cooperation on both sides in the business world might not be remiss.