The Russian Internet encyclopedia Lurkmore.to was restricted within Russia for the third time this year. This time Roskomnadzor, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, required that the site restrict access to an article not only on Lurkmore itself, but also on a Lurkmore mirror site. Problematically, the mirror site belongs to other owners.
It’s just become apparent that Roskomnadzor requires that we block an article on the site mirror together with this ‘ordinary’ article. Before they sent along an independent decision, now, there isn’t one to be found. … Basically, this means that because the mirror site lurkmore.re (Currently inaccessible. -Ed) is out there on the Internet, our entire site is blocked. Cool, huh? Just a regular victory of freedom of speech in Russia.
Lurkmore Founder Dmitry Homak, on Facebook
According to Homak, Roskomnadzor considers the essay “Tussinex” (A cough syrup that contains Dextromethorphan, or DXM, a drug taken recreationally with hallucinogenic properties. –Ed) illegal as there is a description of the narcotic effects of the cough syrup. The page itself notes that it has been blocked by the decision of the Federal Drug Control Service of the Russian Federation. Even though in March Roskomnadzor removed Lurkmore from the list of banned websites, it is worth reviewing a recent event when the Court of Meshchansky District of Moscow enforced removal of an insulting Internet-meme with singer Syutkin from the cultural encyclopedia. Homak took to social media to describe this trial as well:
It’s, citizens, a new fashion (well, not completely new) to call not the person you need to court, but rather someone who is totally irrelevant. When Absurdopedia was convicted of extremism, they called in local providers who, apparently, never showed – they weren’t in danger.
In our case, they’ve found something even richer: they’ve summoned the domain registrar for the .to domain. Yes, from Tonga, in Oceania. They’ll obviously ignore the summons (they couldn’t care less in any case).
Why was this done? To ensure the neither I, nor even in principle our lawyers, could appear in court. Then, all of a sudden, they find something, we have a month to appeal, and then good bye.
The scheme is simple. Roskomnadzor is going to the courts with the demand to allow itself, Roskomnadzor, to block a page about Syutkin (Valeri Syutkin was the cause for Lurkmore’s blocking in December, he was ‘conflated with domestic violence because of [a]meme.’ –Ed). The court summons the Government Registrar of Tongo, who doesn’t show. The court then sides with Roskomnadzor’s claim and requires Roskomnadzor to block the page of BBPE (A rough Russian equivalent to ‘Smack the bitch up.’ –Ed.).
And everyone’s happy.
(Well, except for us, you, and the press as a whole.)
Homak promised that all the articles in the encyclopedia, which do not correspond to the requirements of Roskomnadzor, would be inaccessible for users from Russia. Roskomnadzor officials declined to comment on this last conflict with Lurkmore.
When contacted by Digital Report, a representative of the ISP Rostelecom noted that restrictions are IP based, and not particularly difficult to circumvent. The representative noted that Homak had restricted the accessibility of the offending pages for users with a Russian IP address, however, if a user changed its IP address via, for example, a proxy server, the pages would be accessible.
Most troubling is that Roskomnadzor is holding Lurkmore responsible for the existence of a mirror site. Mirror sites can exist and double nearly any online resource, and they do not require the original owner to support them. This underscores a major weakness in content control; while authorities may view certain content as illegal and not want it spread, the practical constraints of limiting this are massive. Anyone can write anything anywhere on the Internet, which is largely visible to anyone who wants to read it. As shown in the case of Lurkmore, Roskomnadzor’s task of effectively limiting content can sometimes require questionable actions while playing a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.