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Kremlin rivals accuse major social media platforms of ‘censorship’ in Russian election

Russian opposition jailed Alexei Navalny’s allies have accused social media platforms like YouTube and Telegram of censorship after both restricting access to anti-government voting boards. The accusations came after Navalny’s Smart Voting mobile app was pulled from Apple and Google stores just before Russia’s September 17 election. According to the BBC, Google Docs was also down for several hours after more than 146 million Russians started voting.

Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh calling it “shame” condemned the move by social media platforms. “It is a real shame when censorship is imposed by private companies who allegedly defend ideas of freedom,” Yarmysh wrote on Twitter.

She also indicated that this decision would have been supported by the Kremlin authorities. Meanwhile, Navalny’s political ally Ivan Zhdanov also criticized Telegram for its decision to ban political campaigns.

Removal of social media platforms and “anti-government voting recommendations” stores

Kremlin critics have also suggested that YouTube removed one of their videos showing 225 candidates from their Russian election lobby. “The video presentation of smart voting recommendations for the wickedest constituencies has also been removed,” Navalny’s allies said in a statement.

Russian communications regulator Roskinnadzor has also threatened companies like Google and Apple with heavy fines if they contribute to a “systematic violation” of the Russian electoral process. The Russian government also said failure to remove the Smart Voting mobile app would be considered “unlawful interference in Russian elections,” an act that would result in criminal proceedings against the respective tech companies.

Telegram and Google respond to “censorship” allegations

Meanwhile, Telegram founder Pavel Durov responded to the allegations by saying the social media platform decided to ban election content once the poll began. He also claimed that the rule is “legitimate” and similar to those seen in many other countries.

On the other hand, the current Russian government had asked Google to withdraw the anti-government vote suggestions from Navalny’s allies. Following the incident, Durov mentioned that he was “more vulnerable” to government pressure since Telegram was widely used in Russia.

Kremlin carried out biggest crackdown ahead of current election

According to media reports, the Kremlin carried out the biggest nationwide crackdown on Vladimir Putin’s critics just before the current elections. This led to a surprising precedent for the United Russia Party’s decision despite declining ratings ahead of the poll. Meanwhile, the current government continued the crackdown on mainstream media under Russian law of 2017.

Image: AP (representative)

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