Russia has long be the enemy of Western values. From suppressing dissent and doubling down on Russian Orthodox social values to passing laws aimed at suppressing NGOs that could be deemed a “threat” to the Russian social fabric and simply turning Wikipedia off for all of its citizens. The latter example hit headlines on Monday when Russian officials announced it would be banning the entirety of the Russian-language portion of Wikipedia.
The culprit? Hashish. Well, an article about hashish, to be more specific.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Russian internet czar Roskomnadzor stayed true to its threat and Russian Wikipedia pages went dark. But later that same morning, Russia reneged on its ban and the censorship was lifted. When all was said and done, the ban only lasted a few hours. According to Russian officials, Wikipedia went back online for Russian users because the article had been edited for compliance, the Associated Press reported. But according to Wikipedia users, the content of the article in question wasn’t actually edited, but rather simply renamed.
The Washington Post reported today that the entire incident stemmed from a concerned fellow from Chyorny Yar, a small town in southern Russia. That fellow, however, has some serious clout in the town. He found that the Wikipedia entry on charas — a form of handmade hash popular in India, Lebanon, Pakistan, Nepal and Jamaica — was “dangerous” to Russian society. (It seems as though Russians are always concerned about what can be dangerous to society rather than what actually is dangerous to society. That can be solved by, I don’t know, looking around at the widespread economic hardships that the majority of Russians face on a daily basis).
So what did this prosecutor do with his opinion? Naturally, he demanded the article be deleted.
A court then endorsed his demand and Roskomnadzor made its threat and asked Russian internet providers to block the page. Unfortunately, because Wikipedia uses an HTTPS hyperlink protocol, it’s difficult to simply block a singular page. Instead, service providers simply shut off access to the entirety of the Russian language portion of Wikipedia.
But the true anomaly here is that the Wikipedia entry on charas was hardly a threat to begin with. Russia currently sits at a population of 143.5 million. The charas entry was visited by 200-400 readers a day. But on Tuesday, after the ban was lifted, that number jumped up to 193,000 visits, making charas the most visited entry on Wikipedia in Russia.
Simply put, Russia just created a real problem because they were scared of a potential problem. Classic.