Research into the media and journalism in contemporary Russia usually focuses on coercion exerted on critical journalists and censorship of their publications. The present study aims to discuss and extend this analysis by examining the role of forms and technical design in the construction of control over public sphere. Since the 2000s, the Russian internet has been characterised by considerable inventiveness. New online sites were innovative both by their critical contents and their new designs. However, this inventivity has been progressively emptied of its alternative stance. Taking one case study, the recent history of the lenta.ru website, this research takes a serious look at what has become of this ‘site’ as an object hijacked by a pro-government editorial line that has assumed the aesthetics and functionalities designed for an independent site. The sliding of the new content into the old design raises the question of how alternative aesthetics are appropriated by official journalists in contemporary Russia. The construction of acceptable forms of control over the Runet through appropriation of digital innovations is a way of reconsidering the soft constraints that affect public sphere.