Disclaimer 1: I am not a historian and not a political scientist. My knowledge of both subjects is quite average and I probably don’t know wtf I am talking about here.
Disclaimer 2: it is painful to write about these things.
Earlier today I was also reading some news in RU-net (the Russian internet) and Facebook posts by my Russian friends and Russian media. Then, I watched this TED talk by Michael Anti (aka Jing Zhao) “Behind The Great Firewall of China”:
By the way – a great talk.
Michael Anti describes how the Chinese government built their own China-net, how they walled off from the rest of the world, how they cloned the search engines, social media, video sharing and micro blogging internally and blocked off the external counterparts to keep everything under tight control. As he was comparing how the Chinese is controling the voice of the netizens to how other governments (I think it was Egypt and Lybia) do it, I could not help thinking about RU-Net. Here’s what struck me – each country treats the voice of the netizens in the same way it fights superior enemies in large scale wars. The patterns are the following:
When faced with the threat from Mongolia, China built the biggest longest wall in the world and fenced itself off from the enemy using an enormous number of people first to build and then to guard the wall.
Similarly, when faced with uncontrollable flow of information, China walled the internet off and directed mass numbers of engineers to build the internal controlled internet. The main services were created internally under tight control: Baidu, RenRen and Weibo instead of Google, Facebook and Twitter.
When faced with external threat, Arabs stop fighting each other and attack the invaders. They do not coordinate they efforts, each tribe fights however it wants. While attacking the invaders, they also undermine each other and try to take advantage of the neighbours. Once the invaders are defeated, they return to fighting each other.
During the recent unrests Egypt tried blocking social media sites while some Egyptian hackers were attacking the Western media sites together with hackers from other conutries of the region. At the same other middle eastern countries were attacking Egyptian government media sites and providing loopholes for accessing the Western social media sites from within Egypt.
USA uses the preemptive strike and covert operations outside of its territory. It never fights on its own land, but rather attacks anyone who may have had a chance of attacking the US on its soil. The US establishes its military bases all around the world next to anyone who may be a potential enemy.The US sponsors organizations that cause internal unrest in other countries. When shit hits the fan and those US sponsored NGOs take to arms, the US washes its hands and turns against the terrorists it created. The largest war in the US history was the Civil war, the war against each other rather than an external enemy.
Similarly, the US government created the Internet, which quickly prolifirated all around the world and carried open access to information everywhere. When US citizens start paying attention to what is happening with the internal politics and the economy, the US government creates an external enemy or an external problem and diverts all attention and blame. The US government does not silence its netizens, it makes them worry about stuff that’s either outside of the country or not important.
The largest media fight in the US is not between the government and the citizens – it is between the citizens who think of themselves as “democrats” and the citizens who think of themselves as “republicans”. While the people in the US fight with each other over political issues, the government does what it wants. For the government it really does not matter who gets elected, because one of them gets elected anyway.
When faced with an external enemy superior in military might, Russia lets the enemy partially conquer the territory until the enemy runs out of resources. Then, Russia mobilizes every single person, attacks the enemy from all sides, chases the enemy back to their home while conquering everyone on the way. Finally, Russia slowly abandons the conquered territory being unable to control it (in case of Eastern Europe, that last part took almost 50 years).
Russia vs France in 1812, USSR vs Germany in 1940s, Russia vs Bloggers in 2000s
As far as I can remember the Russian history, when Russian army could not fight off Napoleon’s army in 1812, Russian minister of war decided to burn the land in front of the French and let them march deep into the country. The Russians would not let the French take control of the resources by burning fields, houses and scattering the cattle. The French were not prepared to occupy a country as vast as Russia, they ran out of resources and could not survive the winter. While the French army was stretched thin along the way to Moscow, weakened by long jurney and cold weather, the Russians mobilized the peasants, regrouped the army and chased Napoleon out using everything they could including pitchforks and shovels.
When Germans tried to conquer USSR in 1940s a similar scenario unvailed. Germans got very close to Moscow, but by 1944 they were stretched thin along the fronts, they were having hard time replenishing their supplies and did not have enough soldiers to fight on all the fronts around Europe. Meanwhile, USSR loosing several times more people than Germany mobilized every man, woman, and child in the country to support the military with supplies or to become guerilla fighters. Having to fight pretty much the whole population of USSR, the German army was grossly outnumbered and exhausted. The Soviet army pushed them out of the country, chasing them all the way to Berlin and occupying the eastern Europe.
Similarly, when the social networks, blogging and micro blogging came to Russia, the government didn’t resist too much. They made it harder to enter, but they didn’t block Google, Twitter and Facebook like China did. They let them be and let people write whatever they want. When Livejournal became the most popular blogging platform in Russia – the Russians swallowed it (SUP bought LJ from 6Apart in 2007). Now LJ is slowly dying under new ownership.
When an anti-government blogger in Russia becomes a bit too popular, the gov-t sends “trolls” to burry the posts under hundreds of comments and hundreds of other posts on related subjects; they hide the truth under the noize making it impossible to figure out what the person was actually trying to say and whether there is any reason to believe anyone.
When anti-government protests get close to gaining dangerous momentum, the government exhausts the protesters with legal hurdles, fake law suites and then burries the momentum under the noize of seemingly relevant content. Most recent example – protests against falsified elections and consequent prosecution of protesters was burried under the noise of Pussy Riot scandal.
I hope this is not going to take another 50 years…