This talk proposes to look at the russian "sovereign internet" project from a decolonialist point of view. This interdisciplinary research is based on almost 6 years of fieldwork, combining network measurements, open data from IODA, OONI, Censored Planet, as well as OSINT investigations, analysis of legal texts, in-depth interviews and web-ethnography.
To understand the decolonialist discourses and movements, we have also analyzed Telegram as an environment where these discourses are being multiplied since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. With colleagues from Raspad.Network we scraped and analyzed a corpus of Telegram channels dedicated to regionalist, indigenous, local agenda and visualized connections and disparities between different indigenous and regionalist movements. We tried to distinguish between grassroots groups and curated organizations tied to larger orchestrated disinformation campaigns. In our talk we will showcase some of the highlights from this study and share some visualizations based on graph analysis that will help the audience to learn more about the multitude of decolonialist movements within Russia.
The talk proposes to consider inequalities of access to information and connectivity across different territories of the so-called Russian Federation. Looking at past events of local/regional internet shutdowns — starting from informational annexation of Crimea in 2014, followed by the remarkable shutdowns in 2018 in Ingushetia, as well as more recent events in Dagestan and other less "mediatized" shutdown or throttling cases, we argue that the so-called Runet is not a homogeneous space, but actually a multitude of different "lived experiences".
It is well-known in the space of internet science that Russia has a diverse ISP space and counts more than 3500 Internet Service Providers. However, it is much less noticed that these ISPs are not equally distributed across the territory, and not without consequence. We argue that the so-called "Tcheburnet" (a commonly used term for "Russian autonomous and sovereign Internet" project) is in fact a heterogeneous construct. There is no "Cheburnet", but there are "Cheburnets".
The experiences of Runet largely depend on the regions where users live, as well as on their ethnicity, their political views and online cultures. We argue that a region's resilience to shutdowns (but also to mainstream propaganda) correlates with the amount of Autonomous System Numbers and the diversity of the ISP market (and disparities in distribution of those are also historically grounded in the "soviet project").
We propose to analyze information control and censorship in terms of "experience", as it impacts interactions between humans, affects their lives on a daily basis and therefore shapes the worlds they live in. Our talk is using a rich ethnographic material to show how people describe problems they encounter with connectivity (especially since Russia has started its war on VPNs). We invite VPN providers and circumvention tool developers to embrace users' perceptions and feelings about what means "working" and what means "not working".
While in the network measurement space it is common to either rely on remote measurements, or on probes run by volunteers inside their networks, there is also a qualitative part that should be taken into account to provide a more human-centric, more realistic analysis of what users on the ground experience while interacting with their devices.
This talk is also a call against resignation, a call for hackers, VPN providers, circumvention tech developers and Internet freedom activists to actively support indigenous struggles inside "russia" and take into consideration multitudes of experiences within the so-called umbrella "runet".