Effective tomorrow, Russian bloggers will have to register with the government.

On August 1, Russia will significantly tighten its grip on blogging and social media conversations and will acquire expanded powers to block Internet services originating abroad. The new authorities, approved by Russia’s parliament in April, buttress existing regulations that have already been used to block several independent news sites, some of which reported on the political upheaval in Ukraine in a way that apparently drew the government’s ire.

The legislation was part of a broader rewrite of Russia’s anti-terror law, which expanded the already-vast clout of the country’s Federal Security Service and changed penalties for terrorism and extremism crimes. The provisions, signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on May 5, are likely to considerably restrict the free flow of information and opinion on the Russian Internet. Although it’s not fully clear how they will be implemented and enforced, experts say that self-censorship will be a major factor in their success.

The new legislation is alarming because with mainstream media, including national television and popular newspapers, under state control, the Internet has been Russians’ main source of independent coverage and commentary.

“Such laws send repressive signals to the online community, especially the Internet companies that work in Russia,” Andrei Soldatov, a security and information technology expert, told CPJ. “The people working for these companies become frightened of what could happen and start being cautious, they start voluntarily cooperating with the authorities. … In other words, the control of the Russian Internet is done, to a big extent, through self-censorship, which grows exponentially in the absence of well-defined rules.”

The legislation declares that any blogger with more than 3,000 daily visitors to its website or page, including on social media platforms, must register as a media outlet and submit to regulations set by Russia’s media law. Requirements include obeying the election law, avoiding profanity, and publishing age-restriction warnings on adult content. A blogger, defined as “a person publicizing information on a personal website or page,” is subject to penalties for publishing unchecked facts, and is liable for the content of reader comments as well as self-published content.

Penalties could range from a fine of up to 500,000 rubles (US$14,000) to suspension of blogging activities for up to 30 days.

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