The Russian government is said to be preparing to roll out its own social network in an effort to boost the importance and efficacy of the Internet in Russian civic life. The Guardian reports that the Kremlin is working out the details on a Facebook-style social network, complete with personal accounts and forums to discuss current events. The network, slated to go online in June, is already attracting negative attention from Russia's vocal opposition parties.
The Kremlin's new "Facebook" will be an extension of RussiaWithoutIdiots.rf, which was rolled out earlier this year as a site dedicated to logging citizen complaints about civil servants. Russian authorities have been trying for some time now to develop an appropriate response to dissidents, who continually decry corruption and oppression throughout the government. The project has backing of former Russian president and current prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, and it is expected that the site will be funded in part by private backers.
The site is said to feature personal accounts for users, though no word has been given on any requirements for signing up. Users will also be able to upload content, though it is unclear whether such content will be uploaded to a user's personal account or to a wider forum for broad discussion.
The new network is part of a larger push by the Kremlin to integrate information technology into its governance. Medvedev, spearheading this movement, recently required that all of his ministers use iPads and forego paper notes during cabinet meetings.
Factions within Russia's opposition movement are said to be skeptical of the new site. They express doubt that any site with Kremlin backing could rival international brands like Facebook or Twitter. Additionally, the Kremlin's effort will face native competition in the form of popular sites like Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki.
The Kremlin's embrace of social networking represents a shift in the way the government deals with opposition groups. Previously, Russia's FSB security agency had threatened to block popular sites like Gmail, Hotmail, and Skype, claiming that they constituted a haven for "extremist" groups. That threat was then walked back by then-Prime Minister Putin. Putin, though not a regular Internet user, went on record stating that the government must propose answers to the country's problems, lest it lose ground to dissidents.