Google accused of political censorship after pulling videos of Putin critic Alexei Navalny

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 10, 2018. Mikhail Metzel/TASS Host Photo Agency/Pool via REUTERS

YouTube advertisements of Alexei Navalny, a frequent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, were taken down at the request of the Russian government.

The videos reportedly showed Navalny calling for demonstrations on Sunday to protest the rising retirement age in Russia.

Putin has moved to raise the retirement age for women from 55 years old up to 60 years old, and for men, up to 65 from 60.

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In Russia, it’s illegal to campaign 24 hours before an election, and a regional election was set for Sunday.

Google’s Russian office said in an emailed comment: “We consider all justified appeals from state bodies. We also require advertisers to act in accordance with the local law and our advertising policies.”

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The company recieved a request to take down the videos last month, but only took down the videos on the weekend. Their compliance with the request also came after Russia warned the company last week that “meddling” in the Sunday elections could result in court action, according to AFP.

But one of Navalny’s aides said the act of removing the videos amounted to political censorship, as the rallies were to do with the retirement changes, not the elections.

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“The rallies do not have anything to do with the elections,” aide Leonid Volkov said, the Guardian reported.

Navalny had planned to lead the protest, but spent Election Day behind bars after being convicted of violating protest laws last month.

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The protest continued despite the fact that it was missing its leader, and over 1,000 people were detained, Russian rights group OVD-Info said.

St. Petersburg saw arguably the most robust response with riot police charging at protesters with batons. Police arrested minors and elderly people.

The accusation of political censorship comes as regulators around the world consider how powerful Alphabet Inc.’s Google has become after its inception 20 years ago.

U.S. President Donald Trump has also accused Google of a type of political censorship by rigging the search engine to show unfavourable stories about him.

While experts previously told Global News that data shows search results compiled by most tech companies do tend to show a personalization effect — where users see results related to links they’ve previously clicked or “liked” — they say there isn’t data to prove a political agenda.

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*with files from Reuters 


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