Facebook complies with Russia's request to take down an Instagram post linked to Putin's rival

Key Points
  • Facebook-owned Instagram has taken down posts related to bribery allegations made by Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny against prominent figures in a YouTube video.
  • Navalny's video alleged Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko took a bribe from oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
  • The video contained Instagram posts from a woman called Nastya Rybka, who Navalny claimed was an escort.
  • Instagram confirmed to CNBC that it had taken down some of the posts at the request of Russian communications watchdog Roskomnadzor.
  • The YouTube video still remains online.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (C) arrives at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg on January 24, 2018.
Frederick Florin | AFP| Getty Images

Facebook-owned Instagram has taken down posts related to bribery allegations made by Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny against the country's deputy prime minister.

Navalny, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin's fiercest rival, posted a video on YouTube earlier this month, that showed metals oligarch Oleg Deripaska allegedly meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko on the billionaire's yacht in Norway.

In the video, Navalny used Instagram posts from a woman called Nastya Rybka, who he claimed to be an escort. Rybka was on the yacht with both Deripaska and Prikhodko. The 25 minute video, which has been watched over 5 million times, claims that bribery took place.

Deripaska won an injunction against the video after a local court ruled that the video had violated his privacy rights. Last week, Deripaska said in a statement that Navalny's video showed "outrageous false allegations."

The female involved in the video took some of the Instagram posts down at the request of communications watchdog Roskomnadzor, but the Facebook-owned service also complied with the order to remove two more posts.

"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," an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC.

"We are transparent about any content restrictions we make for government requests with local law in our Transparency Report."

Facebook's latest transparency report, which covers the period between January and June 2017, shows it restricted 195 pieces of content after requests from Russia.

The YouTube video is still online and has not been taken down.

Google, which owns YouTube, has not responded to a request for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Basic Element, one of Deripaska's company's, said that the injunction against Navalny's video "has nothing to do with any political struggle" between him and his political opponents. In an emailed statement to CNBC, Basic Element said that the decision, by Roskomnadzor, to block access to the content was to do with a court order rather than any "political motives."

"Any suggestion that it acted at the instruction of the Russian government is ludicrous," a Basic Element spokesperson said.

Roskomnadzor is yet to respond to a request for comment.

Prikhodko provided a statement to business newspaper RBC last week. "The political loser has once again tried to organize a provocation," Prikhodko said in the statement.

'Shame on you, Instagram'

Navalny took to Twitter on Thursday to slam Instagram, saying the company agreed to comply with "Russian illegal censorship requests."


Roskomnadzor also ordered Navalny's own website to be blocked in Russia.

The order from Russia's regulator comes ahead of the country's presidential elections in March.

Instagram's latest episode with Russia highlights a key debate about the choices U.S. internet giants have to make in order to operate in certain markets. Some major figures have raised concerns about the power of internet platforms like Facebook and Google.

Billionaire investor George Soros wrote a piece earlier this week in which he highlighted the danger of "data-rich IT monopolies" forming an alliance with with authoritarian states that "may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even George Orwell could have imagined."