Russia puts pressure on social media to control its critics

MOSCOW — The Russian government was quick to use social media when it tried to run the US election, according to US officials. He’s not in such a rush to see his own home opponents try the same thing.

Ahead of a parliamentary vote later this year, the Kremlin fine-tuned its strategy to pressure platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and TikTok to remove anti-government content, labeling a growing number of posts illegal and emitting a wave withdrawal requests.

So far, it seems to be working. Western-dominated tech giants have in many cases respected each other. YouTube has temporarily removed links to content showcasing the opposition voting strategy. Russian officials say Twitter is working to comply with requests to remove content that Moscow deems illegal. TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance Ltd., has also removed or edited a handful of videos criticizing the government and promoting opposition street protests.

TikTok, Twitter and Google, the Alphabet Inc. subsidiary that owns YouTube, say they decide whether or not to remove content based on the local laws where they operate and their own internal guidelines. None of the companies commented on the specific cases mentioned in this article.

The September elections injected new urgency into strengthening Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to control political debate in the country. Just as it consolidated power early in its reign by nationalizing television stations or selling them to pro-government owners, the Kremlin is now turning to the internet, one of the last havens for free speech. The move is aimed at helping the ruling United Russia party, which has seen its popularity plummet amid steadily declining living standards and is now preparing for any challenges ahead of the election from supporters of prominent dissident Alexei Navalny. who is serving a sentence of 2.5 years in prison.

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