DS08 - Sociétés innovantes, intégrantes et adaptatives

Net resisters Criticism and evasion of digital coercions in Russia – RESISTIC


Russia is a zone of high tension between globalized digital freedoms and national internet management policies officially justified on grounds of network security. Since the early 2000s, Russia has seen the simultaneous development of an unfiltered web and the increase of an authoritarianism wary of civil liberties. The present project sets out to analyze how Russian web operators resist and adapt to the new national regulations that have been imposed in the 2010s.

Resistance to regulations on the Russian web

The ResisTIC project «RESISTANCE ON THE INTERNET CRITICISM AND CIRCUMVENTION OF DIGITAL BORDERS IN RUSSIA« contributes to the development of knowledge on the capacity of societies to innovate, integrate and adapt to digital technology. Based on the Russian case, the research focuses on the development of new online coercion and its circumvention by citizens. It makes it possible to document the new policies of regulation of the Russian Internet, concerning both the surveillance of personal data and the practices of censorship and blocking online content. The Russian case is a remarkable laboratory of the building of new frontiers and constraints in the name of restoring online sovereignty. Faced with these new regulations, the project studies the repertoires of resistance that digital actors (hackers, providers, designers, computer scientists) or public space actors (publishers, booksellers, journalists, urban entrepreneurs, etc.) develop. It covers both practices observed in Russia and beyond its borders by activists and web professionals in exile. It makes it possible to analyse the diversity of resistance and circumvention practices involving both people and technical devices.

The years 2018 and 2019 were marked by rapid developments of new regulations and constraints in Russian digital field (law regulating the functioning of vpn in 2017, attempt to block Telegram in spring 2018, adoption of a law on the «sovereignisation« of the runet in 2019). The Resistic project makes it possible to document and analyse in real time these important and decisive developments for the transformations of digital practices in Russia itself and, beyond, in many countries experiencing similar transformations. The timeliness of the project makes it rich but also sometimes difficult, forcing the team to adjust to the rapid changes underway.
The years 2018 and 2019 were mainly devoted to collecting qualitative sociological data on the field. Missions were organised in Russia, Belarus, the Czech Republic and Germany. About eighty interviews were collected as well as numerous observations of resistant digital practices. The field surveys made it possible to identify the actors involved in online bypasses and resistance, to build a network of partners and to deepen the knowledge available on their practices. The data thus collected constitute the exclusive and original material of the project. A collective work of analysis and processing of the collected data has been undertaken in conjunction with an enrichment of the analytical frameworks to process them.

From November 2018, a bi-monthly seminar «Critic and circumvention of digital borders« was organised at EHESS. During the 10 sessions of the seminar, which took place between November 2018 and May 2019, French and foreign researchers were invited to present their research related to the project's themes. The seminar, open to researchers as well as master's and doctoral students, was included in the EHESS training programme and validated by students who so wished. On 21 June 2019, a study day was organised at EHESS. It made it possible to invite colleagues and actors of online resistance from Russia and Ukraine to Paris.
The joint work on the theoretical framework and the processing of empirical data made it possible to prepare the first communications and articles on the project's themes. The first scientific presentations were proposed from December 2018 (Innovation Conference at Mines Paris Tech), May 2019 (participation in the Marsouin Congress in Rennes), July 2019 (participation in the AFSP Congress in Bordeaux and the IAMCR Congress in Madrid). A dissemination of the results to civil society and the general public is also underway, as evidenced by a first collective article published in The Conversation in March 2019.

The years 2019 and 2020 will be characterised by the implementation of new regulations and constraints of the Russian Internet. The law on «the sovereignisation of the runet« will thus come into force in November 2019. The project team will carry out field fact-finding missions from that date to study the implementation of these new regulations and the invention of new bypass practices to avoid them.
The bi-monthly seminar «Criticism and circumvention of digital borders« at EHESS will be held from November 2019 to June 2020. The data collection missions will be complemented on the ground by new expeditions to the Russian and post-Soviet space as well as to Central and Eastern Europe. To communicate the results obtained, the project's researchers plan to participate in international conferences and congresses (ASEEES in San Francisco in November 2019, ICCEES in Montreal in August 2020). A new study day will be organised as part of the project in 2020.
A particular effort will be made in the field of dissemination of results. A publication schedule is planned, allowing the preparation of collective issues of peer-reviewed journals. Sustained attention will be paid to the design and development of the project's website to make its scientific results available to the general public. The preparation of the final collective book resulting from the project will be undertaken during this second period.

The results of the project have been presented through scientific communications at the national and international levels. Among the most important communications, it is worth mentioning:
- Benjamin Loveluck. Organization of a thematic session on «Hacking policies. Investigation on digital tricks«, Congress of the AFSP (Association Française de Science Politique), Bordeaux, July 2-4, 2019
with : Françoise Daucé. «Digital explorations of Russian journalists facing political challenges« / Ksenia Ermoshina, Francesca Musiani. «Engineers in the face of governance: tricks and resistance of Internet service providers in Russia«
- Organisation of a panel, IAMCR Conference, Madrid, July 8, 2019
With : Françoise Daucé (EHESS) and Benjamin Loveluck (Télécom ParisTech). Codes of conduct in the Russian search industry: the case of Yandex / Ksenia Ermoshina and Francesca Musiani (Center for Internet and Society, CNRS). The Telegram ban: how censorship «made in Russia« faces a global Internet / Olga Bronnikova (University of Grenoble Alpes) and Bella Ostromooukhova (Sorbonne University). Negotiating the moral and territorial boundaries of the Russian public space.
- Organisation of 2 panels at the ASEEES Congress in San Francisco, 23-26.11.2019 :
- (Re)shaping Russian digital space from abroad: State and Non-State web and public space professionals in Post-Soviet and EU countries
- Thinking Piracy on the Runet: between culture, law and politics
The first articles from the project will be published in 2020.

Russia is a zone of high tension between globalized digital freedoms and national internet management policies officially justified on grounds of network security. Since the early 2000s, Russia has seen the simultaneous development of an unfiltered web and the increase of an authoritarianism wary of civil liberties. In addition to its domestic behavior, the Russian government is often also accused of hacking international organizations, orchestrating cyber-attacks and interfering in the election processes of foreign countries. In 2018, in a context of presidential elections in Russia, these tensions are likely to harden even more. In this phase of authoritarian clampdowns and international meddling, the present project sets out to analyze how Russian web operators resist and adapt to the new national regulations that have been imposed in the 2010s. Compared with the currently available literature, the research project innovates by including an investigation of online resistance in Russia that reveals less well-known social practices and techniques for circumventing online constraints. Beyond the Russian case, it intends to contribute to research about changing patterns in politics in the context of a shifting media environment and new information and communication practices.
The project comprises three major complementary tasks. Task 1 is devoted to exploring the resistance and arts of circumvention set up by web professionals (hackers, Internet service providers, engineers, experts, etc.) against new legal and technical internet regulations in Russia. It will examine the technical innovations and unorthodox applications of the web that are used to circumvent or combat these institutional constraints. Task 2 analyses the way “public sphere professionals” (journalists, publishers, web entrepreneurs) appropriate, use and promote circumvention tools; how they make use of these tools to devise innovative compromises enabling them to resist constraint and remain present and active in the public sphere. Task 3 examines exile as a strategy for escaping new online coercion. It addresses the strategies of web and public sphere professionals (hackers, journalists, publishers) who opt to leave their country in order to develop digital practices and their roles as agents in circulating international digital knowhow. It also deals with the migration of internet infrastructure (such as offshoring servers).
The project involves a multidisciplinary team perfectly tailored to the research objectives, combining skills in the study of social resistance and mobilization, innovative approaches in the sociology of science and technology, and excellent field knowledge of Russia. It will produce significant scholarly findings, to be published in international publications (articles in indexed journals, an English-language edited volume) and at international conferences. Its main findings will be uploaded to a website (in French, English and Russian) for the general public and publicized in the media. This research will contribute to a better understanding of digital resistance in an online world where security fears and national control policies are potentially harmful to democracy. It will be part of a greater expertise on these matters of value to public institutions and civil society organizations.

Project coordinator

Madame Françoise Daucé (Centre d'études des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Télécom ParisTech / i3 Telecom ParisTech, université Paris-Saclay
CIS-CNRS Centre Internet et Société
UGA-ILCEA4 Olga Bronnikova
CERCEC Centre d'études des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen

Help of the ANR 411,517 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 42 Months

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