Russia Accuses Google Of Promoting Protests Day After Largest Rally Since 2011
By RFE/RL August 11, 2019
MOSCOW -- Russia has accused Google of promoting unauthorized rallies on its social-media platform a day after the largest protest against the Kremlin in nearly eight years.
Roskomnadzor, the country's communications regulator, said in a statement on August 11 that it sent a letter to the U.S.-based tech giant requesting it stop the advertisement of such "illegal mass events" on YouTube.
"According to available information, several entities possessing YouTube channels have bought advertising instruments (such as push notifications) with the aim of distributing information about unsanctioned (illegal) mass events, including those aimed at disrupting regional and federal elections," Roskomnadzor said in the statement.
Up to 60,000 people rallied in Moscow on August 10 to demand that officials allow independent candidates on the ballot in an upcoming municipal vote, the independent monitoring group White Counter said, making it the largest since anti-government demonstrations in 2011. Police put the figure at around 20,000.
Street protests broke out last month after the Moscow Election Commission rejected most independent candidates for the September 8 city council vote on the grounds that many of the required signatures of support were invalid or falsified. Candidates had to submit about 5,500 signatures of support from local residents to be eligible to run for election.
The independent candidates accused the commission and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin of abusing their power to keep them off the ballot.
The August 10 protest drew about three times the number of people compared with previous rallies this summer, after popular Russian personalities including YouTube star Yury Dud and rapper Oxxxymiron used social media to call on their millions of followers to attend.
In their statements to followers, Dud and Oxxxymiron criticized the state crackdown on protesters over the past few weeks, including the mass arrests and police beatings. Nearly 1,400 people were detained during a July 27 protest in Moscow.
"You certainly cannot support what the government has done in the last few weeks," Dud said on August 8 on social media. "I will attend the meeting to support those already arrested and against police brutality."
Dud has more than 5 million YouTube followers while Oxxxymiron has more than 1.3 million.
The Kremlin and government-friendly tycoons control the country's television stations and most popular newspapers. However, social-media outlets like Google and Twitter have been a thorn in the Kremlin's side, as they allows citizens to get news outside state control.
As a result, Russia has sought to extend its influence over social media by criminalizing certain online anti-government speech, blacklisting many websites, and requiring Internet companies like Google to store data on local users inside the country. Google has so far refused to comply with some of the new laws and been fined.
As the protests broke out last month, a deputy of Russia's ruling party submitted a bill to limit foreign ownership in important Internet companies to 20 percent. The bill is aimed at changing the ownership structure of Yandex -- often called the Russian Google, Moscow news agencies reported.
Roskomnadzor's accusations against Google follow a complaint by the Russian Foreign Ministry earlier this week that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow promoted the August 3 protest by publishing a map of the route. The embassy sought to warn U.S. citizens in Moscow to avoid the area.
Russia has often accused the United States and other foreign countries of being behind popular discontent, without offering evidence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was behind the street protests that erupted in Moscow in 2011-12, the biggest during Putin's 20 years in power.
Andrei Klimov, head of the Committee for the Defense of State Sovereignty in Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, said on August 11 that "foreign opponents took advantage of information and computer technologies in order to manipulate Russian citizens who attended" the unauthorized Moscow protest, TASS news agency reported.
Neither Roskomnadzor nor Klimov gave evidence to back up their claim. Google did not immediately reply to a request from RFE/RL for comment.
With reporting by Reuters and TASS
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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