In modern Russia, under the conditions of networked authoritarianism, the internet remains a free, but increasingly contested space for alternative discourse. Dissenting internet users have to contend with an increasingly sophisticated state surveillance apparatus that exploits the affordances of the internet for sharing information and performing identities.
This paper examines how Russian opposition activists negotiate online visibility and
the security concerns brought on by the state’s pervasive digital surveillance and control efforts. By examining the internet-based practices and narratives of members of Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and other activists, the paper traces connections between their everyday online security practices and the resistance tactics and repertoires they enact in an environment where free exchange of information is under threat. The analysis finds that Russian opposition activists place a high value on digital, media, and security literacy and that navigating the internet using VPNs, 2-phase authentication, and encrypted messaging is increasingly seen as the default modus operandi for Russian dissidents. Russian activists also have to balance the need for security with growing visibility - a key factor for entering the mainstream political discourse. They negotiate this high-profile visibility through the use of non-Russian social media platforms, hosting content and conversations on multiple servers, and making broad use of the internet’s affordances for real-time reporting and sharing. Their heightened visibility and transparent security practices online underscore the constraints imposed on them by state censorship, but also act as insurance against pervasive surveillance that endangers their livelihood and threatens to undermine their work.