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Russia: The Second Blog War


(more buttons and userpics are here)

The Russian-language blogosphere (commonly known as ZheZhe) is on fire: some users are shutting down their blogs, others are emigrating to the virtual Trinidad & Tobago – all because LiveJournal.com's owner Six Apart has decided to team up with the Russian internet company Sup, founded this year by Aleksandr Mamut, a Russian “oligarch,” and Andrew Paulson, an American entrepreneur.

This isn't the first time that ZheZhe (an abbreviation of ZhivoyZhurnal – “LiveJournal” in Russian) is in rebellion: the first “blog war” has been documented by Anna Arutunyan in the July 2005 issue of the Exile.

Assurances from managers of Six Apart and Sup have left many unconvinced and still concerned over whether the Russian security services would gain access to their personal information and whether the new Abuse Team would carry out ruthless purges. A number of ethnic Russian bloggers are furious over the fact that some of Sup's top managers are Jewish; their favorite object of hate now seems to be Anton Nossik (LJ user dolboeb), whose opinion on journalist Anna Politkovskaya's assassination was translated for Global Voices earlier this month.

LJ user kimmi8, a Six Apart employee, attempts to clarify the situation (and LJ user yakovis translates her entry, posted in the lj_biz community, into Russian):

We've licensed SUP, a Russian internet company, the right to use the LiveJournal brand. They'll be operating portions of the LiveJournal service for our Russian userbase (and only for those that want this support). This partnership is an effort to improve the speed, usability, and services that are offered to our Russian community. The only changes that Russian users will see is an improvement to user experience, translation, and support.

The Russian users that have agreed to this support will still continue to be a part of LiveJournal, for as long as they want to be. SUP will be able to promote other products or services they develop to the Russian community, but they won't be able to disconnect anyone from LiveJournal or break apart the community. LiveJournal will still be in control of your journals. We're partnering with SUP to offer a better experience, since we know we've been strongly limited by not being able to serve our Russian community in their native language.

Here are a few of the common questions we know you have:

* What criteria will be used to determine whether a journal is “Russian” or not?

It will be a combination of if you write primarily in Cyrillic, have listed your location as a country from the former USSR, or use a Russian browser.

* Will there be a way to opt out of having my journal transfered?

No journals are being transferred; it's just a change in how the site will be supported. You will be able to opt out of getting the new Russian features, and to continue to be supported by LiveJournal/Six Apart).

* Will information from these journals be given to the Russian government? Personal information?

No. Not in any way that would not happen today, such as a court-ordered subpoena. SUP is acting as our agent and will be bound by our Privacy Policy.

[…]

According to the results of an LJ opinion poll, over 50 percent of respondents (1,741 votes so far) are against Sup's takeover; roughly 20 percent are still undecided and as many don't care; and only 8.5 percent consider the changes positive.

LJ user sholademi, whose post on children's drawings of Vladimir Putin was featured on Global Voices in August, thinks that ZheZhe won't last till winter.

This must be a bit of an exaggeration – even though some of the 300,000-plus Russian users’ accounts will surely land in Trinidad & Tobago's blogosphere, as a result of the ongoing virtual exodus flash mob: “Let's make this small but proud state the leader of the world Internet!”

Another resistance initiative has been suggested by a Ukrainian-language blogger none_smilodon, who decided to write his entries using Greek script instead of the Cyrillic:

***

There are currently three LJ communities (RUS) whose members oppose Sup: anti_prodazha (“anti-sale: We are for freedom in the LJ”), antisup, and no_sup.

***

One LJ community, sup_ru, is maintained by dolboeb and contains suggestions to Sup's management (RUS) on how to improve ZheZhe, among other things.

***

LJ user yojik_yamamoto chronicles (RUS) what he calls “the hysteria.”

26 comments

  • Veronica this is really fascinating. The questions about how much control the local partner will have over user data are very interesting. I wonder if LJ has answered the question anywhere about whether the physical data for LJ’s Russian language blogs will physically “live” on servers in the U.S. or in Russia or elsewhere. In Chinese cases of data being shared by the authorities, physical location of servers has been a key factor: if the data was housed under Chinese legal jurisdiction then the company has to hand it over to auhtorities when requested. But if it’s outside China the company has legal grounds to refuse.

  • […] Assurances from managers of Six Apart and Sup have left many unconvinced and still concerned over whether the Russian security services would gain access to their personal information and whether the new Abuse Team would carry out ruthless purges. [More] […]

  • One more link…

    Today, in a fine article by my Ukrainian colleague Veronica Khoklova over at Global Voices, I come across this:
    This must be a bit of an exaggeration – even though some of the 300,000-plus Russian users’ accounts will surely land in Trinidad &amp…

  • This is truly one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever read.

    The 2005 story says that Americans were accused of censoring Russian posts in 2005. How did Americans get this opportunity? Apparently Russians are incapable of creating their own blogosphere on their own servers subject to their own control, either because they are too incompetent to achieve it or because their own government would shut them down for freely expressing their ideas.

    Yet, these same Russians complain about “censorship” by Americans? The 2005 story actually claims that some of Russia’s “most important journalism” was to be found on this Live Journal forum, yet Russians are complaining about OUTSIDE censorship? This seems completely unhinged. Didn’t it ever occur to them to solve whatever domestic problems keep them from creating their own soveriegn blogosphere?

    It seems to me that here, in microcosm, we have a perfect illustration of all that is wrong with modern Russia. If Russians can’t figure out who their actual friends and actual enemies are, then they are surely doomed.

  • LiveJournal’s link with Russian ‘net co sparks KGB data-share fears…

    Rebecca McKinnon writes: These badges were created by Russian LiveJournal users who are very suspicious (to put it mildly) of a new partnership between SixApart’s LiveJournal and the Russian Internet company SUP. I learned about this controversy by re…

  • LiveJournal’s link with Russian ‘net co sparks KGB data-share fears…

    Xeni Jardin : Rebecca McKinnon writes: These badges were created by Russian LiveJournal users who are…

  • Preved Medved.

  • Thank you for summarizing this conflict. However, I am afraid less the reasons for the opposition were not properly specified. Although some users in their criticism do touch the issue of ethnicity, these users are scarce. To characterize this conflict solely in terms of ethnic prejudice and intolerance is to miss the whole point.

    Most of the votes (by now 2890) against installing SUP in the position of control over the Russian LJ community or in any sense representing it are motivated partly by the fact that SUP so far has done very little to define it’s functions in this contract. It’s main PR strategy has been to obfuscate its mission and the scope of authority (what seems to be simply the right to use the LiveJournal brand!), instead relying in the explanations on emty and pretentious grandiloquency – inviting users to elevate their journals to the «new levels of technological progress».

    The negative votes are in part a response against the “Chief Blogging Officer” – on ethical issues. For one thing, he is strongly affiliated politically, and professionally he represents interests not particularly democratic and progressive – in this particular case and in general. Regardless of the rhetoric, these interests have essentially very little to do with the welfare of community. The most immediate interpretation of these interests is to implement a money-making scheme through repackaging and selling the community as an advertising venue to the local businesses and political organizations.

    Some of the opposition is due to the recent public pronouncements made by Anton Nossik, the SUP’s Chief Blogging Officer”. He referred to users who, deprived of information, for whatever reason are reluctant to embrace the corporate agenda as to “morons” and “idiots”. He further stated that he is gracious enough to forgive them their cretinism. Too many in the community have found themselves in his definition and were offended by his “magnanimity”. They expressed themselves by means of negative voting.

    Chief Blogging Officer’s ethnic/religious background is hardly the issue. Though it may have been addressed in the course of heated personal exchanges – directly or indirectly by implication. This issue is not definitive. Though, there are attempts on the part of the SUP’s PR-department to represent the conflict specifically in anti-Semitic terms. It seems to be an effective strategy (as it now appears in this article supplanting other perspectives) – though it has very little to do with the matter of case, if at all.

    Thank you.

  • For your information, SixAPart is present in Russia with typepad technology too and already 3 blog’s portals use this technology (www.wmjblogs.ru http://www.blogmania.ru and http://www.blogsit.ru ).

  • […] Read more about the Russian Blog Wars and some translated opinions on Havards: Global Voices Online. Thank you for looking into this and providing us Expats and foreign readers with translations. A special thanks to Veronica Khokhlova for her great work there. […]

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