Russian social media crackdown worrisome in escalating conflict with Ukraine

Images of Russian attacks and destruction in Ukraine directly touch the heart of Yuriy Gorodnichenko, an economics professor at UC Berkeley who is originally from Ukraine and tries to keep in touch with many of his family and friends there. low.

Relief comes in the briefest of moments when he says he hears from them on the phone or on social media.

“There is no reception, very spotty internet, and so you have to wait for them to come out of the bomb shelters, then you can have a brief connection and then you have five ten minutes,” Gorodnichenko said.

The UC Berkeley economics professor says many Ukrainians are using Twitter and Facebook to share what’s going on, but Russia has destroyed communications towers, power plants and internet infrastructure.

Adding to the tension, Russia announced on Friday that it was cutting off access to Facebook and Twitter in Russia and imposing criminal penalties on anyone posting what the Kremlin considers “fake” content.

There is also a cyberwar with hackers from both sides launching attacks.

“Prior to the invasion, Russian hackers defaced and took some Ukrainian websites offline and attacked some Ukrainian government systems with malware,” said Gloria Duffy, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Club and former deputy. United States Deputy Secretary of Defense.

On Friday, Ukraine announced it had a force of more than 400,000 people working on cyber warfare to disrupt the Kremlin-controlled military, media and railways.

“Ukraine’s main export to the United States is IT…we have a number of people who have advanced degrees in IT,” Gorodnichenko said.

There are also independent hacking groups getting involved.

“The hacker group Anonymous has declared war on Russia and now there is a group of Russian hackers… trying to disrupt Anonymous,” Duffy said.

However, hacker attacks by groups not authorized by a government also carry great risks.

“International law only governs the behavior of nations and it does not govern the behavior of private actors,” said Herbert Lin, senior cyber policy and security fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

“Now you must be wondering what happens if an anti-Russian hacker tries to hack into them and it’s not a government?” Lin said, “Is anyone going to say this is an act of war by a group of people under the Anonymous label? This could get out of control pretty quickly.”

These consequences could be disastrous, according to Steven Pifer, former American ambassador to Ukraine.

“Could something from a non-state actor trigger an escalation and escalate this thing in a way that Moscow and Kyiv didn’t intend?” said Pifer, posing the potential issue during a Commonwealth Club panel this week.

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