On Friday, a new indictment from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller included claims that Facebook-owned Instagram was used by Russian operatives to spread propaganda during the 2016 U.S. election. But just a few days ago, the same platform succumbed to Russian government demands to suppress what one of the Putin regime’s most vocal opponents says is evidence of high-level corruption.
According to the BBC, Instagram has blocked Russian users from viewing posts by an alleged Russian escort that became fodder for an investigation by Alexei Navalny. Navalny is an opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner who has been jailed by Russian authorities and, more recently, barred from opposing Putin in an upcoming presidential election by embezzlement charges that are widely seen as politically motivated.
In the video that helped trigger the backlash, published on February 8th, Navalny used Instagram posts by a woman going by the name Nastya Rybka to lay out allegations that oligarch Oleg Deripaska bribed Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko, including by providing private jet flights. Navalny also raised questions about the source of Prikhodko’s personal wealth. In a statement to the Associated Press, a spokesperson for Deripaska called the allegations “scandalous and mendacious assumptions.”
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The video triggered a Russian court ruling that Deripaska’s privacy rights had been violated, and then a takedown order from Russia’s communications regulator. According to the BBC, Rybka removed some of the related posts herself, while Facebook removed two others in response to the order. Navalny has blasted Instagram’s compliance, writing on Twitter “Shame on you, @instagram!”
A spokesperson for Facebook acknowledged complying with the takedown demand, saying in part that “when governments believe that something on the internet violates their laws, they may contact companies and ask us to restrict access to that content. We review such requests carefully in light of local laws and where appropriate, we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory.”
Navalny’s own website has also reportedly been blocked by some Russian internet providers. By contrast, according to the BBC, Google has not complied with the order, and Russians can still view the Deripaska report on YouTube. It has been viewed more than 5.5 million times.
Oleg Deripaska is also entangled in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election. As detailed in a recent feature in The Atlantic, a multimillion-dollar debt to Deripaska helped motivate Paul Manafort to seek a leadership role in the Trump campaign. Soon after securing that role, Manafort reached out to Deripaska to offer insight into the campaign as a way to repair their relationship.