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  • In a lot of ways, the internet is the Wild West of entertainment and information.

  • Compared to some of the more established forms of medialike television, movies, print

  • news media, and booksthe internet is still in its infancy.

  • One form of creation seemingly native to the internet is the art of the meme – a typically

  • funny unit of shared cultural information endlessly modified and repeated by its audience.

  • From the image macros of yore to the modern phenomenon of deep-fried madness , it's

  • clear that the internet loves a good meme.

  • Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, is not a fan.

  • That's rightthe 67-year-old KGB agent turned prime minister turned President of

  • the Russian Federation has shown the world his inner boomer by declaring war on memes.

  • Well, not all memessome legislation passed by Russian parliament last year gives the

  • Russian authorities sweeping powers to fine, arrest, and even jail citizens who postdisrespectful

  • content about Russian state officials onlineincluding, of course, President Vladimir

  • Putin.

  • This law even extends towards internet memes judged to be seditious on an extremely flexible

  • set of criteria.

  • Who would have guessed a man known for often assassinating his critics, like Boris Nemtsov

  • and Anna Politkovskaya, wouldn't be able to take a joke?

  • Though interestingly, an inability to take joking criticism has actually been a running

  • theme in Putin's political career.

  • After coming to power, one of his first acts was to ban a satirical television puppet show

  • called Kukly for previously depicting him as an angry, profane gnome.

  • The anti-meme legislation of 2019 feels like a natural extension of that same attitude

  • towards any kind of critical jokes.

  • The legislation was introduced by Russian Senator Andrei Klishas, on behalf of the United

  • Russia Partyled by, of course, Vladimir Putin.

  • The law comes on the tail of Putin's national trust ratings dropping to 33%, a thirteen

  • year low for the controversial President.

  • The legislation has numerous critics in Russian parliamentsuch as lawyer Sergey Shvakin,

  • who jokedSoon we'll be telling jokes about the authorities in whispers in the kitchen

  • on his Facebook profile.

  • Opposing Russian politicians also haven't minced words, saying that the laws are a form

  • of blanket censorship meant to stamp out any form of criticism.

  • Even Sergei Ivanov, a member of parliament from the typically Putin-aligned nationalist

  • LDPR party, said of the new laws, “If we stop calling a fool a fool, he won't stop

  • being a fool.”

  • However, seeing as Putin has the final say on what gets signed into law, none of these

  • criticisms really mattered beyond paying lip service to the opposition.

  • What exactly happens if you defy Putin's internet censorship laws?

  • Well, for your first offense, you could be fined as much as 100,000 rubleswhich

  • is about $1,323.

  • For your second offense, you can be fined double this, and potentially face fifteen

  • days inside a Russian jail.

  • That's enough to discourage anyone from posting their favourite meme at Putin's

  • expense, even if it does seem like an insane overreaction on the government's part.

  • This opens up a few interesting questions: First of all, what is a meme, really?

  • Secondly, why might a world leader willing to poison people with polonium be afraid of

  • some stupid internet jokes?

  • And finally, what specific memes does Putin deem worthy of suppression?

  • Thankfully, these are all questions we can answer here.

  • Though if anyone working for this channel dies mysteriously in the next few days, well,

  • you know who to ask about that.

  • So, memes, let's get to the bottom of this ubiquitous internet trend.

  • It might interest you to know that the concept of the meme actually predates the internet

  • as we know it by quite some time.

  • The expression was first coined by well-known scientist and academic Richard Dawkinsof

  • The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion fame.

  • Memes, in their most basic sense, are ideas that spreadthey can be actions, ideologies,

  • words, behaviours, and media.

  • Almost anything can become a meme.

  • From the musical stylings of the band Smash Mouth to a stock image of a distracted boyfriend

  • to urban legends about hook-handed mental patients.

  • While this might seem like we're overthinking the latest memes trending on Reddit's front

  • page, the idea is essentially the same as it was for Dawkins.

  • In his own words, “Memes are to culture what genes are to life.

  • Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene

  • pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes.”

  • And from here, you begin to understand why someone like Vladimir Putin has an aversion

  • to internet memes making fun of him.

  • Putin hates memes for the same reason Chinese President Xi Jinping banned comparisons between

  • him and the popular cartoon character Winnie the Pooh, and Spain attempted to ban images

  • thatinfringe the honour of a person”: Memes spread.

  • And just like Dawkins said, a memein the sense of a cultural ideathat spreads

  • far enough has the power to hijack a cultural conversation.

  • While this might not even occur to a normal individual like you or me, Putin has a good

  • reason to be concerned about this.

  • And that's because of a surprising fact about Putin and his inner circle: They're

  • marketing geniuses.

  • That's right.

  • You may associate Putin and his government more with raw, brutal strength than public

  • relations prowess, but that's only because that's exactly what they want you to think.

  • Everyone's seen the ridiculous photo ops of Putin riding a horse shirtless , or doing

  • judo , or swimming with dolphins.

  • These images became memes in and of themselves, but that was by design.

  • While most people may see and share these images and videos under the assumption that

  • they're hilariouswhich, to be fair, they arethey're also playing into Putin's

  • hands.

  • That's because, while they make Putin look a little silly, they also make him look strong.

  • Putin and his team have taken great pains to project an image of strength, leadership,

  • and masculinity for Vladimir Putin, using everything from heavily engineered photo ops

  • to extremely unsubtle messages in Russian pop music.

  • Russian pop duo Singing Together released the hit song “A Man Like Putin”, with

  • lyrics like: “I want a man like Putin, who's full of strength.

  • I want a man like Putin, who doesn't drink.

  • I want a man like Putin, who won't make me sad.”

  • With lyrics that flattering, it's a little hard to believe that someone from the Putin

  • team didn't have a hand in the writing process.

  • What we're saying here is: Putin and his associates have been using memes for decades

  • to project the idea of Putin as a strong, feared leader, and to some extent, this campaign

  • has worked like a charm.

  • So, it stands to reason that if a robust meme campaign can help keep Putin in power, an

  • equally strong meme offensive can take him down a peg.

  • Because memes, by nature, have a tendency to spread, it benefits the Russian government

  • to introduce legislation that gives them carte blanche to nip potentially harmful memes in

  • the bud.

  • You're probably wondering: What kind of memes can put you in the crosshairs of the

  • Russian government?

  • Importantly, none, if you live outside of Russia.

  • However, if you're a Russian citizen, you'd be surprised by the sheer number of memes

  • considered defamatory or even extremist by Russia's internet censorship laws.

  • In fact, Russia actually has a list of over 4,000 different images deemed to beextremist”,

  • and grounds for both censorship and even criminal investigation.

  • We obviously don't have time to go through all of them, but let's take a look at some

  • notable examples, and case studies of people prosecuted under these restrictive laws.

  • First, the strange case of Maria Motuznaya, a 23-year-old Siberian internet user whose

  • choice of memes landed her in some serious hot water.

  • The scene of the supposed crime was VKontakte, or VK, Russia's most popular social media

  • website.

  • Maria wasn't exactly a hardcore revolutionaryshe just thought she was posting a few

  • funny memes three years ago, many of which she wouldn't even have posted now.

  • Still, this juvenile decision had suddenly landed her with the threat of six years in

  • prison under charges of hate speech.

  • The same can be said for nineteen-year-old Daniil Markin, whose VK meme posting habits

  • were deemed similarly illegal under Russia's internet censorship laws.

  • What were the two memes that ended up dunking these two Russian citizens into hot water?

  • One was of a group of nuns smoking, with the bottom text readingQuick, while God isn't

  • looking!”

  • The other was a traditional image of Jesus Christ, except with the face of the character

  • Jon Snow from Game of Thrones photoshopped over it.

  • These two images were perceived as being slander towards the Russian Orthodox Church, a powerful

  • religious institution with close ties to the Russian government, and by extension, Vladimir

  • Putin.

  • Posting these memes got Maria and Daniil placed on a list typically reserved for genuine terrorists.

  • Of course, with the Russian government's history of making politically inconvenient

  • people disappear through jailing and even extrajudicial assassinations, Maria and Daniil

  • were left in a state of perpetual fear for their lives and freedom.

  • This, incidentally, is precisely the point of the legislation.

  • In 2017, 411 criminal cases were raised against internet users for the content of their posts.

  • While this doesn't seem like much, it has the wider implication of striking fear into

  • the heart of anyone who feels like making some dissenting internet memes.

  • But the law covers far more than memes with religious connotations.

  • The legislation is so broad that any meme that can be perceived as misrepresenting the

  • actions or personality of the subjecteven if it's fully and clearly intended in jest

  • are grounds for removal and potentially even litigation.

  • One example is a very basic meme made of Russian musician Valeri Syutkin, where a picture of

  • Valeri was coupled with meme text of profane lyrics from another artist's song.

  • This was apparently too much for Valeri to take, as he sued the Wikipedia-esque website

  • where the image was published and won.

  • The legislation also gives the Russian government the power to unilaterally block websites without

  • any public investigation or due process.

  • They also put measures in place to force bloggers to register their blogs under their own legal

  • name, essentially making anonymous blogging illegal.

  • The meme control laws also have a degree of sinister crossover with some of Russia's

  • other controversial laws around homosexuality.

  • During Russian human rights protests, a certain imagelater referred to as theGay

  • Clownmeme, depicting Putin wearing heavy makeup against a colourful backdropwas

  • born.

  • Naturally, the Russian government attempted to ban the image immediately.

  • However, this just resulted in increased proliferation of the image due to the suppression attempt

  • drawing national and international attention.

  • This is known asThe Streisand Effect.”

  • Any memes depicting Vladimir Putin as gay, or committing homosexual acts, are incredibly

  • illegaland a number of variations on the iconicGay Clownimage make up a

  • surprising portion of the several thousand officially banned memes.

  • Others include images of Putin as a standard birthday party clown, images of Putin passionately

  • kissing US President Donald Trump , and even a video of Putin declaring himself to be gay

  • set to jaunty music, complete with a cameo from the South Korean musician Psy, known

  • for his hit song Gangnam Style.

  • Pretty much anyone could look at these examples and see something incredibly sillyDefinitely

  • not the kind of thing a world leader should be wasting his time on.

  • But, for all the reasons we've discussed in this video, it's really not that simple,

  • is it?

  • For the United Russia party, the myth of Vladimir Putin is just as valuable as the man himself.

  • When people think of Putin, and of Russia in general, they think of a powerful, unyielding

  • force - an image that comes as a result of a carefully cultivated propaganda campaign

  • played out over decades.

  • The real power of memes, and the reason some of them will get you fined or even arrested

  • in Russia, is that they prove that even a random internet user holds the power to bring

  • all that expensive state propaganda crashing down.

  • Want some more fascinating videos about Russia?

  • Check outRussian StereotypesandHow Russia Can Launch Nukes From Beyond The Grave.”

  • In the meantime, enjoy your memes!

  • While you can

In a lot of ways, the internet is the Wild West of entertainment and information.

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These Memes Will Get You Arrested In Russia

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    Summer posted on 2020/07/30
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