RSF and independent Russian journalists call on Big Tech to create “Engineers against Dictatorship” to prevent Russia’s online informational shutdown
With the Russian presidential election coming in 2024, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) joins Russian independent media organisations and journalists in calling on Big Tech companies to establish a working group to prevent Russia's online informational shutdown. The initiative is supported by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, journalist and editor-in-chief of Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO
Pavel Durov, Telegram’s CEO
Neal Mohan, YouTube’s CEO
Elon Musk, Twitter’s CEO
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO
Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO
Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn’s CEO
Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s CEO
Dear Tech Leaders,
We, representatives of Russia’s independent media and international NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), are writing to bring to your attention the alarming possibility of a total shutdown of Russia’s online informational space, and to invite you to establish a working group of “Engineers against Dictatorship” to build solutions to prevent Russia from disconnecting its citizens from the rest of the world.
The Russian authorities are preparing for Vladimir Putin's re-election in 2024. They will become increasingly intolerant of any discourse that contradicts the Kremlin’s official narrative. All independent media outlets have already been wiped out in the country. Most independent journalists have been forced into exile. As a result of anti-media laws, journalists and other people receive very harsh prison sentences - for example, 15 years for spreading disinformation about the Russian armed forces.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, most major platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, have been banned in Russia. Only two major platforms have partially survived the purge for now: Telegram and YouTube are the only spaces left for Russian journalists to try to inform their fellow citizens about the reality of the war waged in their name by Vladimir Putin. As campaign season approaches, we have strong suspicions that YouTube and Telegram could be totally blocked in Russia as soon as this autumn, making more than 140 million people hostages of the state’s propaganda apparatus.
We do not want to live in a new Cold War era. There is an urgent need to reconnect Russian citizens with pluralistic information, and with the rest of the world. It is the essence of the Internet to provide this function. The major services you are in charge of have become the main actors of this mission: social networks, search engines, and app marketplaces are the gateways to an open informational world. It is essential to reinstate them; otherwise, Russian citizens will find themselves locked in the dark alone with their president. Technical solutions that would allow your services to come back or remain online in Russia already exist. An “Engineers against Dictatorship” alliance could develop them.
For instance, allowing domain fronting within cloud solutions that the Kremlin will not take down would be of great help to bypass censorship. Using your respective famous domains, domain fronting diverts traffic to enable Russian citizens to access online media in case they are blocked. As Russian corporations still use the cloud for business, Russian authorities would not be able to block domain fronting without financial damage. Promoting access to your blocked websites in Russia through the Tor browser - a secure browser - by distributing their URLs via ads would also be an excellent way to help Russian citizens access an uncensored online space.
We urge Big Tech companies to join us in our efforts to prevent the closure of leading social platforms in Russia and to stand up for the civil rights of people around the world. What we need now, as a group of Russian independent media, is to establish a communication channel between representatives of your platforms and us, and to build solutions together to reconnect Russian citizens with their independent Russian media. Putin's propaganda should not gain a monopoly on the attention of Russians.
We hope you will join us in our efforts to prevent the total closure of Russia’s online informational space.
Christophe Deloire, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Galina Timchenko, СЕО and publisher of Meduza
Ivan Kolpakov, editor-in-chief of Meduza
Elizaveta Osetinskaya, founder of The Bell
Tikhon Dzyadko, editor-in-chief of TV Rain
Pavel Kanygin, editor-in-chief of Prodolzhenie Sleduet Media
Alexander Plushev, editor-in-chief of Plushev Channel
Sergei Smirnov, editor-in-chief of Mediazona
Dmitry Kolezev, editor-in-chief of Republic
Galina Arapova, CEO of Mass Media Defence Center
Denis Kamalyagin, editor-in-chief of Pskovskaya Gubernia
Kirill Rogov, founder of Re:Russia Project
Victor Muchnik, editor-in-chief of Beyond Moscow and The Witnesses of February 24th Project
Ivan Rublev, editor-in-chief of It’s My City
Ivan Pavlov, founder of The First Department Initiative
Lola Tagaeva, editor-in-chief of Verstka
Ilya Ber, editor-in-chief of Provereno.Media
Mikhail Klimarev, Executive Director of Internet Protection Society
Alexander Cherkasov, human rights activist
Irina Malkova, editor-in-chief of The Bell
Roman Anin, editor-in-chief of iStories Media
Alesya Marokhovskaya, editor of iStories Media
Ruslan Shaveddinov, editor of Popular Politics Channel
Sergei Ukhov, editor-in-chief of Perm 36,6
Veronica Kutsyllo, editor-in-chief of Poligon Media and Khodorkovsy Live
Ivan Zhilin, editor-in-chief of Kedr Media
Iullia Schastlivtseva, founder of Kedr Media
Taisia Bekbulatova, editor-in-chief of Holod Media
Mikhail Danilovich, co-founder of Novaya Vkladka
Ekaterina Martynova, editor of Doxa
Sergey Parkhomenko, coordinator of Redkolleigia project
Olga Romanova, founder of My Russian Rights
Svetlana Anokhina, editor-in-chief of Daptar.ru
Ilia Shumanov, editor-in-chief of Transparency International Russia
Maksim Kurnikov, editor-in-chief of Echo
Fedor Krasheninnikov, political analyst, founder of FedorKrasheninnikov channel
Oleg Grigorenko, editor-in-chief of 7x7 Horizontal Russia
Sergey Lukashevskiy, executive director of Sakharov Center, editor-in-chief of Radio Sakharov
Tatiana Ivanova, editor-in-chief of Paperpaper.ru
Egor Skovoroda, executive editor of Mediazona
Mikhail Shubin, Editor-in-chief of OVD-Info
The initiative is supported by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, journalist and editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
“Totalitarian regimes destroy independent media to establish control over society through propaganda. This is no longer just censorship of individual publications and messengers; it is something new, global. Dangerous attempts are being made to destroy the very means of delivering content to citizens. Now, in Russia, the entire "transportation" of content delivery is under threat of destruction, particularly YouTube and Wikipedia. Engineers can help journalism and society today. They can find and implement reliable methods and algorithms for preserving YouTube, Wikipedia, VPN. Freedom of speech today is technology. We need a joint-effort initiative: "Engineers against dictatorship."