As monopoly social media networks in the West, and in China, become essentially state-controlled entities, censoring free speech and political discourse, Russia is moving to do the same, putting most large Russian social media companies under state control.
Those in power around the world now grasp the importance of controlling the narrative in cyberspace.
Billionaire Alisher Usmanov announced Thursday the sale of his stake in internet holding company VK, which controls two major Russian social networks: Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki. The stake will pass to state-owned bank Gazprombank and insurance company Sogaz, which is controlled by Putin ally Yuri Kovalchuk and his family. The new head of VK looks set to be the son of top Kremlin official Sergei Kiriyenko, reported Russian independent news outlet The Bell.
- After the completion of the sale (no price was given), Sogaz and Gazprombank will each obtain 45 percent of MF Technologies, which owns 57.3 percent of the voting shares in VK. State defense corporation Rostec holds the remaining 10 percent of MF Technologies.
- While it’s clear that the deal gives the state much closer control over social networks Vkontakte — which has about 100 million users and is often touted as the Russian answer to Facebook — and Odnoklassniki, it’s less clear what plans the new owners have for VK. One commentator speculated Saturday that VK could be used as a platform to create a Russian equivalent of YouTube and squeeze out the Western video service. “From the audience figures for different platforms it was clear how foreign platforms were gaining popularity and how Vkontakte was losing ground,” said one source close to the negotiations about the sale. “For political reasons, the state did not want Vkontakte to lose touch with a Russian audience.”
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