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Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia. Picture: REUTERS/SHAMIL ZHUMATOV
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia. Picture: REUTERS/SHAMIL ZHUMATOV

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny castigated Google and Meta Platforms on Thursday for shutting down advertising, which he said undermined the opposition and came as a gift to President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny, Russia’s leading opposition leader, casts Putin’s Russia as a dystopian state run by thieves and criminals where wrong is cast as right and judges characterise a doomed, lawless country.

In a written address to the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, Navalny, now in a Russian jail, said the state uses technology to arrest dissidents but technology also gives an opportunity to get to the truth.

“The internet gives us the ability to circumvent censorship,” Navalny said in the address, a copy of which was posted on his official blog.

“Yet, at the same time, Google and Meta, by shutting down their advertising in Russia, have deprived the opposition of the opportunity to conduct antiwar campaigns, giving a grandiose gift to Putin.”

Neither Google nor Meta responded a once to requests for comment on Navalny’s remarks. Both companies paused advertising targeting users in Russia in March days after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Navalny earned admiration from the disparate Russian opposition for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he was treated  for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent in Siberia.

The Kremlin has repeatedly dismissed Navalny’s claims about Putin, who it says won many elections in Russia since 2000 and remains by far the country’s most popular politician. It denies trying to poison Navalny. 

Navalny, a former lawyer who rose to prominence more than a decade ago by lampooning Putin’s elite and alleging corruption on a vast scale, said the titans of Silicon Valley had a lot of questions to answer.

They would have to decide, he said, whether they were really “neutral platforms” and whether users in democracies should operate under the same rules as those in repressive societies.

“How should the internet treat government directives, given that Norway and Uganda seem to have slightly different ideas about the role of the internet and democracy?

“We love technology. We love social networks. We want to live in a free informational society. So let’s figure out how to keep the bad guys from using the information society to drive their nations and all of us into the dark ages,” said Navalny.



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