Mar 10, 2022 - Technology

Media companies launch tech workarounds to bypass Russia's restrictions

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 21
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a February address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow. Photo: Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Companies affected by Russia's free speech crackdown in the wake of the Putin-ordered invasion of Ukraine are responding with technical workarounds to the censorship.

Why it matters: The Kremlin has moved to silence the anti-war protest movement in Russia by restricting international and local independent news outlets, along with Twitter and Facebook.

  • The Putin-controlled parliament has passed a law making the spread of what it deems "fake news" about the Russian military to be punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
  • The crackdown has prompted leading international news outlets, including the New York Times and the BBC to suspend their news operations in Russia.

What's happening: Twitter this week launched an official Tor onion service version of the microblogging site, enabling users in Russia to bypass surveillance and censorship by using the Tor anonymity network to reach the platform.

  • "Making our service more accessible is an ongoing priority for us," Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy said in an emailed statement on Wednesday evening.

The BBC has issued a post, titled "How to get around the BBC block in Russia," pointing to the broadcaster's "dedicated" site on the Tor Browser and the Psiphon censorship circumvention tool.

  • It has also launched two shortwave frequencies broadcasting news in English in Ukraine and parts of Russia — something that had been phased out in most places in the past decade.
  • "Access to accurate, independent information is a fundamental human right which should not be denied to the people of Russia," the BBC said.

Voice of America, which the Kremlin last week threatened to block over its independent reporting on Russia's invasion, said in a statement: "VOA will continue to promote and support tools and resources that will allow our audiences to bypass any blocking efforts imposed on our sites in Russia.

  • "Our journalists will continue their reporting, an example of free press in action."

Worth noting: A grassroots crowdfunding group has paid for broadcasts to be placed on a private, commercial shortwave station. 

Go deeper: Russians flock to VPNs to evade internet blockade

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct that a private group had paid for shortwave broadcasts, not VOA.

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