Russia’s seven federal districts will get special centers to assess hate-mongering in mass media, including online publications, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said on Friday.
Audio and video publications will also be assessed for ethnic and religious hatred, Nurgaliyev said in an obvious reference to content aggregators such as YouTube, where extremist groups often try to post their content.
The minister did not say when the centers may be created. Two already operate in Moscow and St. Petersburg and a third is under way in Rostov region, all of them affiliated with local state universities.
Police has intensified a crackdown on online extremists in 2011, opening 67 criminal cases and taking down 47 websites, Nurgaliyev said at an official meeting on extremism in Moscow.
The ministry came under attack from rights activists over its online vigilance, with independent anti-xenophobia watchdog Sova accusing police and other law enforcement services in a report released this week of ignoring court procedures and cracking down on Internet service providers rather than actual uploaders of extremist content.
The new centers, which will conduct assessments for ongoing criminal probes, are redundant because in most cases, investigators are perfectly able to identify extremism content themselves without resorting to costly and lengthy assessment procedures, Sova head Alexander Verkhovsky told RIA Novosti.
“It’s an insane and pointless practice,” Verkhovsky said by telephone. He added that courts and law enforcements have begun to demand mandatory expert evaluation in extremism cases in mid-2000s.
Russian anti-extremism legislation is often criticized for being too vague, which allegedly allows authorities to use it as a tool for political prosecution. Verkhovsky said the threat of extremism is real enough, but bureaucratic procedures only serve to distract investigators.