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As "War Games" Escalate, Russia Blocks Over 26,000 Websites To Get At One Art Blog

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, October 3 2013

This may not surprise you, but Russia's law banning “homosexual propaganda” does not make exceptions for satirical online art projects. The Russian censorship agency Roskomnadzor added the art blog and multimedia platform Looo.ch [NSFW] to its registry of “forbidden websites” on September 19 after they uploaded two racy multimedia “textbooks.” But blocking Looo.ch backfired on Roskomnadzor in a big way. To get at Looo.ch, the agency cut access to the website host SquareSpace and 26,439 other websites went down in Russia. The art blog was thrust into more prominence as a result of the gaffe. Meanwhile, other websites frustrated by the increasing frequency of down-time and inadvertent blocks are trying to train their users to be tech-savvy in these times of “war games.”

Looo.ch is run by New York-based Ukrainian expats Natasha Masharova and Anatoli Ulyanov. They recently uploaded two books satirizing the homophobia that led to the Russian bill banning “homosexual propaganda” as a necessary protection for children. With titles like “Homosexuality for Kids” and “Lesbianism for Kids” [NSFW], the books were designed to draw ire.

The books consist of a series of photos, GIFs, and short videos, with some textual commentary. The style ranges from cartoony and comical—an animation of two of the teenage mutant ninja turtles making out; a photograph of a clitoris with a face drawn on looks exactly like Piglet”—to explicitly erotic girl-on-girl/guy-on-guy action. One page shows a woman nursing a newborn baby, both of them covered in blood from childbirth, and posing with the placenta at her feet. It reads: “They say that to make a child, you need to a mom and a dad. [sic] Isn’t it cool that we live in the 21s century when science creates miracles! Thanks to science, you can get impregnated by the Holy Ghost even! Like the Virgin Mary!”

So, yes, the sites are incendiary, erotic, amusing and possibly offensive, but by no means a sex manual for kids. Nor was Looo.ch a popular website in Russia, at least before Roskomnadzor banned it and 26,000 other SquareSpace websites.

According to blogger Egor Prosvirnin [translation via Global Voices Online]:

[Looo.ch] was a website for radical-leftist intelligentsia with daily visits of around 3,000 people, a diversion for a narrow audience. Now the above mentioned “Homosexuality Textbook” is on the front page of [Russian tech blog] Habrahabr (and a thousand other news websites and blogs with an audience of millions), and 26,000 law-abiding websites [hosted by SquareSpace], including purely commercial ones, are blocked in Russia. At the same time the “Textbook” file can be instantaneously found through Google.

Other websites that have suffered from downtimes are trying to train their users to circumvent online censorship. One online library of pirated books, Flibusta.net, put up the following message under the headline “War games in progress” [translation from Global Voices]:

Anti-Internet laws already passed or in the planning stages in Russia in some ways affect all users. Every person should know how to counter censorship and blocks. Along with the regular Internet there are the anonymous webs of I2P and TOR. They aren't as easily controlled [by the government]. It's high time to learn how to use them.

By enacting harsh anti-piracy and anti-homosexual censorship laws, Russia started this war. Now Internet companies and regular citizens are preparing to fight back.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.