Communication Yearbook 39
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A respectful treatment of one another is important to us. The directive allows not only state agencies but also any individual to propose the blocking of specific websites. Authorities do not appear to perform regular or automated monitoring of the accessibility of banned websites, and it generally takes several hours for a new IP address to be blocked.
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However, the Belarusian government is reported to be in possession of equipment and software necessary for DPI. The government issues warnings to pressure websites to take down politically sensitive content. The Ministry on Information issued 17 warnings regarding content to independent media in , most of which also have corresponding webpages and social media pages, a slight increase over Seven websites received warnings in ; two sites received multiple warnings.
The Ministry also sometimes pressures websites to remove comments posted by users. The comments were subsequently removed by the outlet. In September , independent online outlets experienced a unique request for content removal from the lawyers of businessman Viktar Prakapenya, who is currently President Lukashenka's point person for Belarus' IT development. Prakapenya requested the removal of articles on his detention from two years ago in which he was never officially charged.
Both prominent and smaller outlets alike either agreed to delete the content or made it unsearchable. Under the amendments to the Media Law, website owners can be held liable for content that is false, defamatory, or harms the national interest. The authorities increased pressure on online outlets to remove content after the amendments to the Media Law.
These amendments require owners of websites to remove content disputed by any person and to post a refutation in its place. If owners do not comply, their sites can be blocked. Website owners are also held liable for any illegal content posted on their sites and can be punished for abusive or "incorrect" comments left on message boards.
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Destabilizing developments in the region — including worsening relations with Russia, ongoing economic difficulties, and local elections in Belarus — had an adverse effect on the online media landscape. With the internet serving as an important source of information for Belarusians, the authorities stepped up their efforts to influence and manipulate online content by blocking prominent opposition news sources.
Attempts to influence content using bots also grew. Once the amendments to the Media Law go into effect see Legal Environment , the government will have more power to control the online media space. However, during the reporting period, more people engaged with independent online sources, finding them more credible than state-run media. In a troubling move impacting the diversity of viewpoints online, the government blocked two opposition news sources: Belarus Partisan [ 83 ] in December and Charter 97 in January see Blocking and Filtering.
Through selective use of oppressive laws, threats, and force, the government actively promotes self-censorship. The amendments to the Media Law criminalize the spread of "false" information and limit anonymous commenting. State-run media outlets also manipulate information. For example, independent online media sources reported the internet search engine Yandex's finding that the most popular query of Belarusians in was 'Freedom Day,' the March 25 opposition holiday that played an important role in the spring protests.
However, the state-run news agency BelTA reported the same story, but left out 'Freedom Day' while highlighting "Game of Thrones" and "Eurovision The Belarus government increases its repression of independent media around elections.
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During the February local elections, independent experts noted that authorities prevented some online journalists and bloggers from monitoring the election by expelling them from polling stations. Trolling is one of the government's less direct methods of manipulating online content.
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Since the protests, the number of trolls and paid commentators praising the government and denouncing the opposition has increased significantly on independent media websites. While it is difficult to prove that trolls are paid, some coordination behind their activities is evident. They are constantly present on popular and influential forums and social networks, frequently work in teams, and immediately react to breaking developments.
Attacks on independent media by bots, which are often cheaper than paid human commentators, have recently increased. For example, in February , a Belsat video on life in Russian villages was attacked by tens of thousands of bots producing 'dislikes' from around the world. In another instance, the independent newspaper Nasha Niva detected bot attacks on several of its articles.
While Belarus has always been subject to Russian propaganda, this influence has increased since the 'Revolution of Dignity' in and Russia's subsequent invasion of Ukraine. Russian outlets, including websites, have unleashed a vitriolic campaign against both state and non-state actors in Belarus. In many ways, the Kremlin operation resembles the campaign organized against westward-leaning Ukraine. Russian sites accuse Lukashenka of being disloyal to Russia, too independent, and pro-Western. Always critical of the symbols, culture, and history embraced by the Belarusian democratic opposition, they now allege that the Belarusian authorities and their opponents have allied to promote 'dangerous nationalism' and 'Russophobia.
These trolls not only attack pro-democratic online forums and activities, but seek to influence viewers and manipulate content on Russian-Belarusian issues. In February , Lukashenka replaced the heads of the main state media television, radio, and newspaper outlets, which also maintain important websites. The authorities use onerous administrative laws to restrict independent journalists. Journalists are not allowed to work without state accreditation, exposing freelancers and online journalists to legal sanction see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities.
The amendments to the Media Law will expand what is defined as traditional media to include online media and other related websites, providing the option for sites to register as media companies. The government controls all broadcast media and more than news outlets, as well as their websites. Since , the government has been operating the portal "Mass Media in Belarus," or BelSMI , which aggregates news and information from the websites of more than local TV, radio stations, and print newspapers.
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The website only includes state-controlled local media, and experts have criticized BelSMI for its one-sided content. The government also employs direct and indirect economic pressure to limit financial support for independent online media outlets, making it nearly impossible for these sites to be profitable. During the reporting period, foreign donor support for Belarusian civil society organizations, including independent online outlets, declined.
Internet advertising is the fastest growing segment of the total media advertising market.
Freedom on the Net 2018 - Belarus
Despite the challenging media environment, Belarus continues to display a diverse and vibrant online presence. The great majority of the 50 most popular news and information websites are either independent or opposition-run. Social networks and blogs are the fourth leading source of news and information for Belarusians due to government restrictions over traditional media.
While text blogs in Belarus traditionally have more elite authors, youth and regional activists produce popular video blogs, especially on YouTube.