Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said Friday it is "disappointing" that social media companies would assist in the Russian government's censorship of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
"It’s disappointing that these social-media companies, supposedly dedicated to freedom of expression, would shut down one of the few voices of opposition to Vladimir Putin just a month before Russia’s elections," Cotton said in a statement. "Putin’s henchmen don’t need any help rigging the results, and it’s not asking too much to expect American companies to defend American values in all corners of the globe."
Instagram reportedly bowed to a court order to block access to a post that embarrassed an oligarch and top government official, according to the Washington Post. Navalny's team discovered Instagram posts of metals magnate Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko on a yacht in Norway:
Navalny had posted a YouTube video showing the Instagram posts and presenting evidence that women aboard Deripaska’s yacht worked for an escort service, and it went viral in Russia last week. Deripaska successfully sued for the removal of the posts and Navalny’s video, claiming they violated his right to privacy, and this week the government started implementing the court order.
On Thursday, telecom regulator Roskomnadzor said that it had ordered Navalny’s website blocked and that it was satisfied that the Instagram posts that Deripaska sought to remove were no longer available. Google, however, had not yet complied with the demand to take down Navalny’s video on its YouTube platform, the agency said.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, released a statement that governments may ask it to restrict content that violates their sovereign laws.
"We review such requests carefully in light of local laws and where appropriate, we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory," a Facebook spokeswoman said.
Navalny slammed Instagram in a Twitter post.
"Instagram decided to comply with Russian illegal censorship requests and deleted some content about oligarch Deripaska," Navalny wrote. "Shame on you, Instagram!"
Cotton is a consistent critic of Putin's autocratic regime. Last month, he slammed Putin for his jailing of Navalny, saying it showed he feared his own people and revealed what an "oppressive" government he runs.