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YouTube Accused of Censorship After Coming Under Russian Pressure

News Brief

The Russian government has threatened to block YouTube and Instagram if they do not remove videos and other material relating to an oligarch with close ties to President Vladimir Putin.

The footage and photos that have irked the government show a former model associated with billionaire Oleg Deripaska and feature in an investigation into the tycoon led by Russia’s leading opposition politician, Alexey Navalny. It’s the latest case of U.S.-owned internet giants finding themselves caught up in political battles — and facing accusations of bowing to censorship, after coming under pressure from Russia’s media regulator.

The Google-owned video sharing giant has responded by threatening to delete the open source videos and Instagram posts that form the backbone of Navalny’s inquiry. Many of them are posts made by the former model and escort who spent time with the oligarch on his yacht.

“OKAY GOOGLE, what about freedom of speech?” tweeted Oksana Baulina, a member of Navalny’s team. She attached a screenshot of an email from YouTube’s legal team informing her that the video in question had been added to a “black list” by the regulator, which is known by its abbreviation “Roskomnadzor.” “If you do not remove the content, Google may be required to block it,” said the email.

If YouTube were to comply with the government agency it would block the video from YouTube’s Russian domain, but not from the site globally, reported the New York Times.

Deripaska also has past ties to President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, now indicted by the special counsel investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election campaign. Navalny is President Putin’s most prominent opponent, but he has been banned from standing as a candidate in the presidential elections due next month.

Earlier this year, it emerged that a Russian state-television station had tried to use YouTube’s copyright policies to get videos critical of its broadcasts removed. A similar tactic was used in neighboring Azerbaijan to target the country’s largest independent media outlet.