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YouTube defends decision to take down Navalny election posts, insists firm committed to both free speech & abiding by Russian law

YouTube defends decision to take down Navalny election posts, insists firm committed to both free speech & abiding by Russian law
The boss of one of America's top technology firms has defended moves to delete posts from jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny ahead of Russia's parliamentary elections after Moscow officials warned they breached national laws.

Speaking to journalists on Monday, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki insisted that a commitment to free speech is a "core value" for the company, owned by US tech giant Google. "But when we work with governments, there are many things we have to take into consideration, whether it's local laws or what's happening on the ground," she said.

Google and its subsidiaries blocked access to a number of materials published by Navalny's allies in the run-up to the nationwide vote earlier this month. The group had sought to promote its so-called 'Smart Voting' initiative, designed to help supporters cast their ballots tactically in an effort to elect anti-Kremlin candidates. Despite limited domestic interest, officials ordered tech companies to block access to the site, remove the app from stores and delete campaign content. Navalny's operations were branded 'extremist' by a court earlier this year and effectively barred from working within the country.

A fortnight ago, prior to the elections, Moscow summoned the US ambassador, John Sullivan, to question him over what Russian diplomats said amounted to foreign interference by American companies in the poll. "The evidence was presented to him," foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said. "It is quite serious, really. We are still waiting for an answer from our American colleagues why this is happening."

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Online media watchdog Roskomnadzor issued a sternly worded rebuke to Google, as well as other US tech firms including Apple, Cloudflare and Cisco, in advance of the vote. "During the pre-election campaign, it is prohibited to enable the violation of Russian legislation, including those related to election campaigning on the internet," officials said.

In the aftermath of the election, Vasily Piskarev, the head of a State Duma commission investigating foreign interference in Russia's domestic affairs, claimed that foreign entities had been lobbying tech firms to refuse to take down prohibited materials. "A number of foreign NGOs – more than 20 organizations in total – during the election campaign openly called on Facebook, Twitter and Google not to comply with authorities' orders and ignore Russian legal requirements to take down banned content," he said.

Also on rt.com More than 20 foreign NGOs tried to interfere in Russia’s elections & should now be banned from country, top Moscow lawmakers claim

According to Piskarev, the commission "has now prepared an appeal to the Prosecutor General's office, with a proposal to recognize these NGOs as 'undesirable' on Russian soil."

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