THE Kremlin is planning to create its own Facebook-style social network, where users with personal accounts will be able to upload content and discuss the issues of the day.
Social networks have been the tool of choice for opposition activists since street demonstrations broke out in December, but the popularity of the Internet in Russia means any Chinese-style attempt to assert control from above would be doomed.
So the authorities appear to have been forced to play the socially networked activists at their own game.
Government minister Mikhail Abyzov told the Izvestia newspaper that the network, which is intended to go live in June and to attract private capital, would be created from an existing site called russiawithoutidiots.rf. Set up earlier this year with the support of the then-president, Dmitry Medvedev, the site allows users to complain about civil servants.
The initiative is also part of an agenda pushed by Medvedev, who is now prime minister, to build the role of e-government in Russia. Last month, Medvedev forced all his ministers to use iPads, and dispensed with paper during cabinet meetings.
But analysts are sceptical that a Kremlin social network could ever rival international brands such as Facebook and Twitter and their popular Russian equivalents, Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki.
“If the government creates some form of social network, then people will not join it,” said Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia’s security services and the Internet. “It is not realistic.”
Russia’s vocal opposition movement is heard loudest online. Aleksei Navalny, one of the most popular critics of the president, Vladimir Putin, became famous through his blog.
The Kremlin is just the latest Russian institution that has been forced to confront social media in recent months. In May, Patriarch Kyrill, the 65-year-old head of the Russian Orthodox church, launched a Facebook page after a series of scandals put him at the centre of a storm of Internet criticism.
Despite Putin’s protestation that he is too busy with work to use the Internet with any regularity, Russia recently overtook Germany to become the European country with the most Internet users.
“If the authorities do not like what is happening on the Internet there is only one way of resisting,” Putin said when asked his opinion on the Internet last year. “On the same Internet platform you have to propose different answers … and collect a larger amount of supporters.” — The Guardian, London