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YouTube's CEO says free speech is a 'core value' even after removing videos by Putin critic Alexey Navalny

Business Insider
Business Insider
 26 days ago

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YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.
  • YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has defended the removal of videos by Russian activist Alexey Navalny.
  • Putin's most prominent critic, Navalny has criticized tech platforms' 'obedience' from jail.
  • Wojcicki insisted the company remained committed to the 'core value' of free speech.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page .

The chief executive of YouTube defended the company's apparent acquiescence towards the Russian government, claiming free speech remains its "core value."

Last week, Russian news service Interfax reported that Vladimir Putin's regime had ordered YouTube's parent company, Google, and Apple to remove access to a voting app run by jailed opposition activist Alexey Navalny. The app disappeared from both app stores , sparking criticism among both the public and Google's own employees .

In an interview with Bloomberg , YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said free speech remained a "core value" at the company, but added that there were "multiple considerations" to take into account when dealing with a country like Russia.

The company has removed videos featuring Navalny in the past, citing Russian censorship laws, and reportedly took down another of his group's campaign ads ahead of the country's parliamentary election.

Wojcicki did not give a direct answer when asked if the latest video had been removed at the Russian government's request.

"One of the things that is important to us at YouTube is the fact that we do enable so many voices, and that we do enable people to express themselves, and really celebrate the freedom of speech," she said. "That's a core value of ours."

"But when we work with governments, there are many things that we have to take in consideration, whether it's local laws or what's happening on the ground," she added. "So there's always going to be multiple considerations."

When pressed on who ordered the takedowns, Wojcicki said: "We certainly get requests from governments, and we look and consider why are we getting the request? What's actually happening on the ground? And based on a whole bunch of different factors, we make a decision."

Navalny is currently in a Russian prison after returning to the country from Germany, where he recovered from being poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok during an internal Russian flight last August. The Russian government claims he is guilty of embezzlement.

On Friday, Navalny tweeted that he was surprised "how obediently the almighty Big Tech" had acted as Putin's "accomplices" in censoring him.

"The giants Apple and Google have complied with the Kremlin's demands and removed our app from their stores. My beloved YouTube has deleted our video, and the Telegram messenger has blocked our bot," he wrote.

"These programs, which Putin calls 'extremist', only contained information about opposition candidates in your constituency," he added.

Putin and the Russian government's treatment of Navalny continues to draw criticism from abroad. During a meeting with Putin last month, departing German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Navalny's imprisonment unacceptable and called for his release.

The team of US President Joe Biden has warned Russia of "consequences" if Navalny dies while in custody.

Are you a current or former Google or YouTube employee with more to share? You can contact this reporter securely using the encrypted messaging app Signal (+447801985586) or email (mcoulter@businessinsider.com). Reach out using a nonwork device.

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