State control over the Russian internet (Runet) has been enforced by dedicated administrations and private digital entrepreneurs since the early 2010s. Along with them, groups of digital vigilantes report on “negative” online content and claim to be fighting against activities considered to be criminal or contrary to social norms. However, their ideological convictions and moral supports are diverse and changing. This article analyses two nonprofits: Molodezhnaia Sluzhba Bezopasnosti (MSB, Youth Security Service) and Liga Bezopasnogo Interneta (LBI, Safe Internet League), which sponsors an emergent “cyber Cossack” movement. MSB, which can be referred to as “citizen investigators,” has developed a high degree of technical and legal experience and cooperates actively with the police. LBI promotes a conservative vigilantism to ensure “virtuous browsing,” with a strong focus on education. In March 2019 hearings at the Russian Civic Chamber on a bill addressing the activity of kiberdruzhiny (cyber patrols) revealed tensions between the “politically involved” (Duma members and kiberdruzhiny’s organizations) supporting the bill and the “experts” (representatives of internet companies and security specialists) opposed to it alleging the proposed law’s inefficiency. A third group, the supporters of a free and democratic Runet, is absent from the official debates but speaks out on social networks and through independent media against the development of civil surveillance.
Laboratorium, Vol 11, No 3