11 Jul 2012
Everyone enjoys reading about himself. This wretched egomania fuels the celebrity phenomenon that is the lifeblood of modern society, and why not! So you can imagine my delight to awake this morning to Catherine Fitzpatrick’s latest four-thousand-word-long masterpiece — an attack on me, my sinister Kremlin sympathies, and the outfit (Global Voices) where I recently signed on as a project editor. Her post, “Global Voices’ ‘Nuanced’ Coverage of the Troubling New Russian Internet Law,” targets a GV piece I published yesterday on Russian draft Law 89417-6, the legislation that many describe as a “Great Firewall” clone.
Upon actually reading Fitzpatrick’s opus, I was less than thrilled to learn that she picked all the wrong reasons to assault my work. In less than 4,000 words, let’s right those wrongs and explore some actually justified assassinations of my stuff!
First, as I pointed out in a probably-a-bad-idea comment on Fitzpatrick’s blog, I’m not the one who compared Russian Law 89417-6 and SOPA. The Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights drew this comparison in a public statement that was signed by none other than Ludmila Alexeyeva, a woman Fitzpatrick lists as her “political grandparent.”
Second, I am said to have “bashed” Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev, who supports the Internet legislation. Fitzpatrick, who openly opposes the law, writes that “Ponomarev in fact has comported himself entirely honorably in the last year.” She is, of course, referring to his recent protest activities (oddly, this anti-Soviet crusader singles out Ponomarev’s support for the rabidly leftist and Stalin-adoring Sergei Udaltsov), but most importantly Fitzpatrick misinterprets a particular quote I inserted into my GV post. I noted that Ponomarev defended Law 89417-6 by citing the fact that its first blueprint was drafted by an online society. That group, The League for a Safe Internet, first proposed a more limited blacklist than the one now being considered by the Duma, to be managed by an NGO, though the parliament now wants to delegate that authority to Roskomnadzor. What Fitzpatrick misunderstands is that Ponomarev’s statement was on July 6, the day that the deputies approved the new, harsher version of the law. In other words, Ponomarev was endorsing not the original “soft” blacklist, but the revised legislation! You know, the one with “no judicial oversight” (a mischaracterization, as blacklisted sites can appeal the decision in court) and “concepts antithetical to human rights” (such as “anti-extremism,” like racist hate speech).
Third, fourth, and umpteenth, this steaming pile of lazy reading-and-research fails to scratch the surface of perfectly legitimate criticisms of my own work. For instance, I suggest that a new office in the Presidential Administration, “For the Application of Information Technology and the Development of e-Democracy,” was created as a counterweight to Deputy PM Surkov and Communications Minister Nikiforov. But where’s the proof? Just because I couldn’t find a public statement about the Internet law doesn’t mean that the presidency hasn’t signaled a more defined position on the issue, perhaps also ambivalent about the law’s current wording.
Meanwhile, I cite an article by journalist Andrei Babitskii, who (a day before the RuWikipedia blackout) lambasted Russia’s Internet companies for remaining ‘unforgivably silent’ about the looming RuNet blacklist. Babitskii has been kidnapped, interviewed terrorists, and battled Putin’s ‘bloody regime’ for years, but there is plenty of contrary evidence to his claim that Russian tech companies kept silent about the Duma’s draft law. While LiveJournal and VKontakte publicly endorsed RuWikipedia’s stunt, the executives of Yandex, Russian Google, Mail.ru, and others have been dishing out condemnations to the media for weeks. Why not assail me for burying this story? Wasn’t it unfair of me to downplay the heroics (or the honesty, or whatever one wishes to call it) of the RuNet giants?
All this is to say that my delight this morning was short-lived. I like a good trolling as much as the next guy. In this age of video and doodads, it’s always nice to know that somebody out there is reading — even if she’s doing so through clenched teeth and cracked spectacles. But when criticisms miss their mark, and fall instead upon misunderstandings and misreadings, my excitement slips into disappointment, and any service to readers transforms into a boring misrepresentation of a thing that wasn’t ever really read in the first place.