Shutting down Google and Meta ads in Russia helped Putin, Navalny claims

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Imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has lashed out at ad tech giants Meta and Google for shutting down ads inside Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, which he claims was a huge boon for the Putin regime as it became harder for the opposition to get out. against -Military messages.

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The remarks came after Navalny was asked to speak at a conference on democracy. Not personally, of course, since he remains imprisoned in Russia – rather, he posted comments on his Web site.

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“It would be completely banal to say that the new information world can be both a boon for democracy and a huge disaster. However, it is so,” he writes. “Our organization has built all its activities on information technology and has achieved significant success with its help, even when they were practically illegal. And the Kremlin is actively using information technology to detain protesters. It is proudly declared that all of them are recognized even with their faces covered.

“The Internet gives us the opportunity to bypass censorship. But at the same time, Google and Meta, by shutting down their ads in Russia, made it impossible for the opposition to run anti-war campaigns, giving Putin a huge gift.”

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Navalny has formerly called for Meta and Google to allow their ad tech to be used as a weapon against Putin’s propaganda machine, arguing that highly scalable ad targeting tools can be used to bypass restrictions on access to free information imposed by the regime to expose Russian citizens to the bloody reality of “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine.

Now, in a thinly veiled critique of the tech giants — which would presumably have been delivered in a sarcastic tone if his address had been given in person — Navalny writes: them and act as “neutral platforms”? Should they continue to argue that social media users in the US and Eritrea, Denmark and Russia should operate under the same rules? How should the internet feel about government directives, given that Norway and Uganda seem to have slightly different views on the role of the internet and democracy?

“All this is very complex and very controversial, and all this needs to be discussed, remembering that the discussion should also lead to solutions.”

“We love technology. We love social networks. We want to live in a free information society. So, let’s figure out how to keep the bad guys from using the information society to plunge their countries and all of us into the dark ages,” he adds.

Meta and Google have been contacted to respond to the criticism, but neither has submitted a comment at the time of writing.

The tech industry’s response to the war in Ukraine remains mixed: Western companies increasingly close services within Russia — but not all of their services.

For example, despite shutting down ads in Russia, Meta and Google have not shut down access to their social platforms, Facebook and YouTube — presumably because they claim these services help Russians access independent information, rather than the state-controlled propaganda that fills traditional broadcast channels. in the country.

In the case of Facebook, that argument was reinforced when the Russian internet regulator targeted the service shortly after invading Ukraine. initially restricting access; and then, in early Marchannouncing that Facebook would be blocked after the company restricted access to a number of state media.

Interestingly, however, Google-owned YouTube appears to have escaped outright government blocking – though it has received a slew of warnings from Russia’s internet regulator in recent months, including for spreading “anti-Russian advertising“.

This discrepancy suggests that the Kremlin continues (for the moment) to view YouTube as an important channel for its own propaganda — likely due to the platform’s huge popularity in Russia, where YouTube use outpaces local alternatives (such as Owned by Gazprom Media Rutube) that would be much easier for the Putin regime to censor.

This is not the case with Facebook, where the leading local alternative,, has been hugely popular for years, making it easier for the Kremlin to block access to the Western equivalent, as Russians have less incentive to try to bypass the block with a VPN.

However, if the Kremlin is intent on shaping citizen access to digital information in the long term, it may not be content with maintaining YouTube’s popularity — and may prefer to use technical means to reduce access by actively promoting local alternatives as a promotion strategy. using local competitors until they are big enough to dislodge the influence of the foreign giant. (And indeed, reports suggested The Kremlin is investing in Rutube.)

Given the continued influence of YouTube in Russia – coupled with the growing threats from the Russian state regulator that YouTube will remove “prohibited content” or face fines and/or service slowdowns—Navalny may at least have the general view that Google risks playing right into Putin’s hands.

The imprisoned opposition politician was also even more critical of the local search giant Yandex — compared to a service equivalent to Google News, which operates under a regulatory regime that requires it to pool only state-approved media sources, allowing the Kremlin to shape the narrative it presents to millions of Russians visiting the country. search portal home page where this news feed is displayed.

Back in AprilYandex has announced that it has signed a deal to sell news and other media properties called Zen to VKontakte, but it remains to be seen how and if this ownership change will actually affect the state-controlled news narrative about Russians. regularly exposed when they visit popular local services.

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