Telegram blocks chatbots of Russian opposition leader during vote

The Russian government still has a strong influence on Telegram despite the lifting of a ban last year. RadioFreeEurope reports Telegram has temporarily blocked Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Telegram chat bots during the vote in the country’s parliamentary elections this weekend. Company founder Pavel Durov said Telegram would obey an election law prohibiting campaigning during elections, calling the law “legitimate”.

This move comes despite the nature of robots and Durov’s past statements. One of the bots, Smart Voting, was only meant to identify candidates who might overthrow the dominant United Russia party, and not just Navalny’s Future Russia party. Durov also denounced Apple and Google by removing the Smart Voting mobile app from their respective app stores, calling it a “dangerous precedent” that tolerated censorship.

Russia under Vladimir Putin has systematically cracked down on all political dissent, including actions against Navalny himself (such as an assassination attempt linked to Russian agents) and a long-standing effort to quash the broader effort of smart voting. Officials have both threatened Apple and Google with fines and have gone so far as to try to limit the Internet infrastructure that allows access to smart voting.

Whatever the motivations, the ruling highlights that fine tech companies tend to operate in Russia. While they may oppose the Putin regime’s tight grip on politics and speech, they also cannot afford to upset the government if they want to have any presence in the country. Telegram may oppose Russia’s policies, but it risks depriving residents of a relatively safe avenue for free speech if it defies Russian laws.

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