Russia has officially warned Google, the US internet giant, against “meddling” in the local elections to be held next Sunday. On September 4, representatives of Russia’s electoral commission, the Prosecutor-General’s Office and the state internet overseer, criticized Google for hosting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s videos calling for mass protests, asserting Navalny utilising Google’s services to propagate illegal information, and also warned that they may prosecute Google if it does not take a step to stop this. Navalny, a strong critic of Kremlin, has used YouTube to prompt people to protest on September 9, when Moscow and several Russian regions would elect regional and local officials.
Central Election Commission member Alexander Klyukin disclosed that the commission had sent an official letter to Larry Page, the CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, regarding Navalny’s use of YouTube. Klyukin stated, “Mr. Navalny buys the company’s advertising tools to publish information on YouTube about the mass political event on September 9, on the day of elections.
We informed Google that such events on election day will lead to a massive violation of the law” because political agitation is banned on election day. Meddling by a foreign company in our election is not permitted.” Additionally, he called Google a “gigantic American company” and hinted that Washington uses it as an influence tool.
A Google spokesperson send AFP an emailed statement maintaining that Google “reviews all valid requests from government institutions”, but declined to give any specific comment.
Navalny’s close ally Leonid Volkov, as a reaction to the officials’ statements, declared that the Sunday rally is legal and does not violate election laws since its aim is not to campaign for a particular candidate. The purpose of the rally is to protest upcoming pension reforms, which will hike the retirement age by five years for women and three for men—a highly unpopular move. Since Russian companies have turned down similar commercial requests to publish information about upcoming demonstrations, YouTube has to be resorted to as “the only channel to inform the masses.” He wrote on Facebook, “All levels of the Russian government… have been ordered to block the protest by any means necessary.”
Vadim Subbotin, the deputy chief of Russia’s internet watchdog Roskomnadzor, accused “foreign internet platforms” like Google-owned Youtube of disrespecting Russian laws and acting as a “mouthpiece for disseminating illegal information”. He criticized YouTube for “acting as a link in the chain for propaganda of anti-social behavior during Russian elections”.
He even claimed that numerous YouTube channels, the count being over 40, “constantly call for violating Russian law”. “Certain parties interested in destabilizing the situation in Russia attempt to attract internet users to illegal actions by providing unlimited opportunities on foreign internet giants like Google,” he said. Subbotin added that Google’s lack of response to official complaints would be seen as “de-facto direct intervention in Russia’s domestic affairs.”
While discussing their grievances against Google during a meeting at Russia’s upper house of parliament, the officials sent an official warning to Google over the “inadmissibility” of violating Russian election law, as claimed by Alexei Zhafyarov, an official from the Prosecutor-General’s Office.
Russia has quite incessantly endeavored for greater control of information published by Russian users on international platforms to constrain political dissent and hinder terrorism.