Russia’s ‘alternative’ to Wikipedia is anything but open

Over the weekend, the Russian Presidential Library denounced the online database Wikipedia for being “unable to provide reliable and detailed information about Russian regions.” The library’s solution is to create a new web source that gives, in its opinion, more objective detail on life in Russia. This site is being dubbed an “alternative” to Wikipedia by the library. More than 50,000 books and documents from 27 regional libraries across Russia have been collected as resources for the website.

However, what is the likelihood that this new online encyclopedia will be free from governmental bias? Wikipedia’s content is derived from user-generated material, while Russia’s new web source will be taken exclusively from curated documents. Within the past year, the Russian government has taken multiple steps to censor Russia-related content on the Internet. In March, websites opposing or criticizing President Vladimir Putin’s regime were blocked from public access. In August, laws were enacted to require blogs with more than 3,000 followers to register as a mass media source with the government. This action would hold blogs accountable for spreading any anti-Russian content.

The Russian government even has its own history with dabbling in the Wiki-sphere. In July, a Russian state-run TV and radio station, VGTRK, was caught editing a Wikipedia article in order to accuse Ukrainian soldiers in the crash of Malaysia Air Flight MH17. These sort of actions make it easy to interpret this new digital encyclopedia as just another cynical step in a concerted campaign for government monitoring. Even though Putin has stated that the government has no hopes of censoring the web, previous actions have proven otherwise. These attempts to nationalize the Internet subvert the system’s inherent nature. China took a similar, yet more extreme path in its nationalization of its Internet. Will Russia follow suit with the next “Great Firewall”?