Abstract: Current digital ecosystems are shaped by platformisation, algorithmic recommender systems, and news personalisation. These (algorithmic) infrastructures influence online news dissemination and therefore necessitate a reconceptualisation of how online media control is or may be exercised in states with restricted media freedom. Indeed, the degree of media plurality and journalistic independence becomes irrelevant when reporting is available but difficult to access; for example, if the websites of media outlets are not indexed or recommended by the search engines, news aggregators, or social media platforms that function as algorithmic gatekeepers. Research approaches to media control need to be broadened because authoritarian governments are increasingly adopting policies that govern the internet through its infrastructure; the power they leverage against private infrastructure owners yields more effective—and less easily perceptible—control over online content dissemination. Zooming in on the use of trusted notifier-models to counter online harms in Russia, we examine the Netoscope project (a database of Russian domain names suspected of malware, botnet, or phishing activities) in which federal censor Roskomnadzor cooperates with, e.g., Yandex (that downranks listed domains in search results), Kaspersky, and foreign partners. Basedon publicly available reports, media coverage, and semi-structured interviews, the article analyses the degree of influence, control, and oversight of Netoscope’s participating partners over the database and its applications. We argue that, in the absence of effective legal safeguards and transparency requirements, the politicised nature of internet infrastructure makes the trusted notifier-model vulnerable to abuse in authoritarian states.
Keywords: authoritarian states; internet governance; internet sovereignty; news personalisation; Netoscope project; platformisation; Roskomnadzor; Russia; trusted notifier-model