A group of Russian teenagers got into trouble this week for allegedly planning to blow up a fake government building they built in Minecraft, according to EuroNews – as opposed to, you know, the one that actually exists in the real world.
Two of the three teenagers were cleared for cooperating with authorities, but Nikita Uvarov, 16, was sentenced to five years in prison by a Siberian military court for ‘training in terrorist activities’, the lawyer said of human rights Pavel Chikov. FR and France Media Agency by telegram.
“For the last time in this court, I want to say: I am not a terrorist,” Uvarov told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
According to FR, Uvarov and two others were previously arrested in the summer of 2020 for distributing leaflets supporting a Moscow mathematician and anarchist activist on trial for vandalism. The three put one of their leaflets on a local building of the FSB, which is Russia’s powerful security agency. After the police take their phones, they uncover plans to blow up an FSB building the teens had created in the popular game.
Not only does the building not exist in real life, but FR reported that Uvarov pleaded not guilty and denied wanting to blow up anything in real life. He also mentioned the pressure from the authorities, who FR reports have already leveled “preemptive charges” against teenage anarchists and activists.
The problem, of course, is that no one can accurately predict crime, and the tools that create preventative measures are widely criticized. In 2020 the New York Times reported that a 30-year-old man had no idea that his years-long struggle with parole officers was largely created by an algorithm that predicts the risk of crime among incarcerated people, and activists said long opposed to similar programs that use less personal data to predict crime in physical locations before it happens.
Because human biases are coded into these algorithms, it goes without saying that marginalized groups are more likely to suffer the consequences.
And Russia doesn’t even use an algorithm to preemptively charge teenagers. They are just guessing that in-game activity will translate. But by that logic, wouldn’t we be charging all gamers who love first-person shooters?
If predictive criminal charges continue, teenagers like Uvarov will continue to suffer. In his own words for the Novaya GazetaUvarov says he just wants to leave Russia and finish his studies.
“I would just like to finish my studies, get an education and go somewhere far from here,” Uvarov said, according to the Russian investigative newspaper. “I ask the court to let me do it.”
Read more about Russian interference: Pirates try to prevent war by disrupting the railway used by the Russian army
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