The war in Ukraine showed Russia’s desperate attempt to control information in its country. Despite the blocking of Facebook, Instagram and other social networks, some Russians who refuse to trust official media find themselves in Clubhouse an uncensored alternative.
A report of Contribution detailed as anti-war activists from several cities in Russia use Clubhouse to find out what’s happening in the world. Russians have access to pop-up audio rooms where subjects forbidden in their country are discussed, such as the invasion of Ukraine.
Everything indicates that the Roskomnadzor has forgotten the existence of the Clubhouse, just like the West. After being one of the most used apps of 2020, its popularity has waned and now it’s struggling not to become the new MySpace.
Going unnoticed by the Kremlin regulator is a plus for the app and its users. Some chambers have been functioning since the start of the invasion, others for months. Activists see it as an option to follow the conflict and discover the true motives of Russia.
“Clubhouse gives Russians an opportunity to listen to the opinion of Ukrainian residents and not blindly trust federal television channels,” says Ararat Gulyan, head of a sports organization in the Tver region.
Although Clubhouse gives them the opportunity to listen and express themselves, some take care to talk too much. Gulyan says he is not ready to share with the press what is discussed in the halls of the application. Masha, a scientist from St. Petersburg, says she doesn’t want to get in trouble, but she doesn’t intend to keep quiet either.
Russia punishes those who speak ill of the government with fines and prison terms
The fear of Clubhouse users and those demonstrating in protest against the war is linked to a law to fight against disrespect and fake news. The Russian parliament has approved an initiative that prohibits the broadcasting of false information of public interest in an attempt to “promote greater accountability and discipline the population”.
Citizens or businesses that disseminate information not authorized by the government must eliminate it within 24 hours and pay a fine. In the event of a threat to the functioning of critical infrastructure, they will be blocked and will pay 1 million rubles (8,740 euros).
A second law that punishes disrespect for authorities centers on activists. delinquents could spend up to 15 days in jail. In the most serious cases, there is prison sentences of 10 or 15 years and fines of 1.5 million rubles
According to Dmitry Peskov, presidential spokesman, the law is a measure to counter the campaign of fake news which has been unleashed in Russia. “In the context of this information war, a proportionally tougher law was needed, and it was passed,” he said.
At Reddit videos are circulating of activists being arrested while shouting anti-war slogans. Police in riot gear patrol public squares in Moscow and other cities to arrest anyone who speaks out against the government.