Russia forbids soldiers to use social media

New guidelines from the Russian Ministry of Defense aim to limit the access of soldiers to the internet. So far these guidelines are only recommendations, but they will be implemented in legislation soon. That reports Izvestia.

Some of the recommendations are very sensible: Install software updates, don’t install suspicious apps, and use complex and unique passwords for all services. There are also some good reminders of privacy issues on the internet and the dangers of revealing sensitive information. It is for example mentioned how the geolocation of an attached photo or video file may cause the enemy to attack that location.

However, other recommendations are more concerning. For example, soldiers should apply settings to make their accounts on social media platforms as closed as possible, and they should only accept contacts that they know in person. This basically renders the services useless. Social networks have security and privacy settings to control almost anything, and applying them all is practically the same as making your account inactive. Some social media networks like Twitter and Reddit are built entirely around the idea of sharing stuff with people you don’t know.

Service members are also encouraged to ask family members and acquaintances not to reveal anything about their military service. So family members have to restrain themselves from writing that they miss you, or that dealing with the kids alone is really hard.

The steps are explained as necessary security measures because foreign intelligence services exploit the information that Russian soldiers reveal online. This is a well documented cyber threat that all militaries have to deal with. However, the radical securitization of social network usage overlooks the fact that there may be positive effects of soldiers using these services. Indeed, social networks may help maintain morale amongst soldiers, and they serve as a positive news source for many people.

Absent from the argumentation for the new guidelines is the fact that social networks have proven to be powerful tools for influencing public opinion. I think it is safe to assume that this concern has been decisive for the Russian Ministry of Defense. Not only do they want to limit the flow of information from Russian soldiers to the internet — they also want to shield the soldiers from disturbing sentiments on social networks. Russia is deeply concerned about social unrest, and they want certainty for the loyalty of the military in such a situation.

Izvestia boldly claims that the new Russian guidelines are mere reflections of rules that already exist in other countries. Namely it is mentioned that the U.S. military introduced similar restrictions in 2011. This is clearly not true. For example, the U.S. Army “encourages our commands, Soldiers, Families, and Army Civilians to safely and accurately use social media to share their experiences and provide information”.

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