The Russian government continues to have a strong influence on Telegram despite the lifting of a ban last year. RadioFreeEurope Telegram reportedly temporarily blocked all Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Telegram chat bots during the vote in the country’s parliamentary election over the weekend. The company’s founder, Pavel Durov, said Telegram would comply with an election law banning campaigns during the election and calling the law ‘legal’.
The move comes despite the nature of the clashes and Durov’s statements from the past. One of the clashes, Smart Voting, was only intended to identify candidates who could deprive the dominant United Russia party, not just Navalny’s Russia of the Future Party. Durov also decided that Apple and Google would remove the Smart Voting mobile app from their respective app stores, calling it a ‘dangerous precedent’ that tolerates censorship.
Russia under Vladimir Putin has regularly faced political inconsistencies, including actions against Navalny himself (such as an assassination attempt linked to Russian agents) and a protracted attempt to eliminate the broader Smart Voting effort. Officials have threatened Apple and Google with fines and have gone so far as to try to stifle Internet infrastructure that provides access to smart voting.
Whatever the motivation, the decision highlights the fine line that technology companies tend to run in Russia. Although they may object to the tight grip of the Putin regime on politics and speech, they also cannot afford to oppose the government if they want any form of presence in the country. Telegram may object to Russia’s policy, but it may deprive its residents of a relatively safe way of free expression if it violates Russian laws.
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