Telegram Blocks Russian Opposition Bot as Google, Apple Pull App
(Bloomberg) -- Telegram, the social media platform used by protesters from Iran to Belarus, blocked a “smart voting” channel with recommendations for candidates in Russia’s parliamentary elections aimed at defeating ruling party nominees.
The platform restricted bots featuring campaign materials because of rules about days of silence before the election, Telegram’s Russian-born founder Pavel Durov wrote on his Telegram channel at the end of the first day of voting.
At the same time, Durov criticized Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple Inc. for removing a protest-voting app tied to imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny from their Russian online stores under pressure from authorities. He wrote that the move “sets a dangerous precedent that will affect freedom of speech in Russia and around the world.”
Russia is in the second day of voting for the lower house of parliament, known as the State Duma, in which President Vladimir Putin’s unpopular United Russia party is counting on a commanding victory. The three-day election finishes Sunday evening.
Independent monitoring group Golos, deemed a “foreign agent” by the Russian government, recorded 2,130 possible violations at polling stations across the country Friday, Novaya Gazeta reported. Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova called on Golos activists to explain their complaints to the oversight agency, while accusing them of carrying out a campaign to discredit the election, state-run RIA Novosti reported.
While many competitors have been squeezed off the ballot, Navalny’s so-called smart voting initiative, which largely suggests picking Communist candidates, could still present a challenge to the Kremlin’s preferred contenders in some races as opposition activists seeking to galvanize discontent over stagnant living standards.
Putin, 68, has stepped up efforts to gain control over the internet, which has remained a bastion of free speech, after two decades in power. Russian courts have declared Navalny’s organizations “extremist” and banned online references to smart voting, while many of his allies have been forced into exile or jailed.
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