Telegram blocks Russian opposition leader's chat bots during vote

Despite lifting the ban last year, the Russian government continues to exert strong control over Telegram. RadioFreeEurope reports that Telegram temporarily blocked all Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Telegram chatbots during the country's parliamentary elections this weekend. Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram, stated that Telegram would follow an election law prohibiting campaigning during elections. He called it "legitimate."
Despite the bots' past statements, the move is made. Smart Voting, one of the bots was intended to identify candidates who could defeat the United Russia party and not Navalny's Russia of the Future. Durov also criticized Apple and Google for removing Smart Voting from their respective apps stores. He called it a "dangerous precedent", which allowed censorship.

Russia has been a staunch defender of political dissent under Vladimir Putin. This includes actions against Navalny (an attempted assassination linked with Russian agents) as well as a long-running effort in order to stop the wider Smart Voting effort. Officials threatened Apple and Google with fines, and even tried to throttle the internet infrastructure that allows Smart Voting.

Whatever their motivations, this decision highlights the fine line tech companies walk in Russia. They might be opposed to Putin's tight control on speech and politics, but they can't afford antagonizing the government if they wish to maintain any presence in Russia. Telegram might object to Russia's policies but it could endanger residents by denying them a safe avenue for expression if it violates Russian laws.

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