Anyone who misses the bad old days of the Cold War will have a chance to indulge in some nostalgia next year, courtesy of Russia’s new government, which has promised to exercise a totalitarian level of control over social media during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
According to reports in Poynter.org, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere, Russia’s official R-Sport news agency has issued rules forbidding reporters with print publications from publishing content on any social media platforms at risk of having their accreditation canceled. Meanwhile, ordinary spectators will be allowed to use social media but Russia’s Federal Security Bureau will monitor all social media activity as well as all other forms of communication. The FSB has been tinkering with telephone and Wifi networks to give it access to everyone’s calls and Internet activity. Welcome to Russia, what’s not to like?
Reading all this, it’s natural to wonder -- why?
Of course, security concerns are understandable: the Olympics is a high-profile event, which unfortunately makes it an attractive target for terrorists (of which southern Russia has its share). And the U.S. isn’t really in a position to throw stones, what with the NSA’s well-publicized “spy on everyone, all the time” policy.
But what’s the rationale behind preventing journalists from using social media? “Homeland,” notwithstanding, I have yet to hear of an actual case of a journalist getting mixed up with terrorism, and I would rate the chances especially slim among the global elite of sports journalism. This looks a lot more like Cold War-era paranoia about Western espionage, back when foreign journalists were frequent targets for counter-surveillance -- and maybe even summary deportation to express dissatisfaction with Western policies. There’s also just a hint of intimidation, probably with an eye to preserving Mother Russia’s glorious reputation abroad: if you are uncouth enough to tweet something unflattering about your hosts you will be shown the door, and, yes, it will hit you on the way out.