The war in Ukraine has shown 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 the official media found in Clubhouse an uncensored alternative.
An Input report details how anti-war activists from multiple cities in Russia use Clubhouse to find out what is happening in the world. Russians access ephemeral audio rooms where topics banned in their country are discussed, such as the invasion of Ukraine.
Everything indicates that the Roskomnadzor forgot about the existence of the Clubhouse, just like the West. After being one of the most used applications of 2020, its popularity declined and now it is struggling not to become the new MySpace.
Clubhouse is an alternative to get around Kremlin censorship Going unnoticed by the Kremlin regulatory body is an advantage for the app and its users. Some rooms have been operating since the beginning of the invasion, others have been for months. The activists consider that it is an option to follow the conflict and learn the true motives of Russia.
“Clubhouse gives Russians an opportunity to listen to the opinion of Ukrainian residents and not blindly trust federal TV 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 are careful to talk too much. Gulyan says he is not ready to share with the press what is being discussed in the app's rooms. Masha, a scientist from Saint Petersburg, assures that she does not want to get into trouble, although she does not plan to remain silent either.
Russia punishes those who speak ill of the government with fines and jail
Offending the government of Vladimir Putin is cause for arrest and fines thanks to a new law. The fear of Clubhouse users and those who march to protest against the war has to do with a law to combat disrespect and fake news. The Russian parliament approved an initiative that prohibits the dissemination of false information in the public interest in an attempt to “promote greater responsibility and discipline the population”.
Those citizens or companies that disseminate information not authorized by the government must eliminate it within a period not exceeding 24 hours and cover a fine. In case of threatening the operation of critical infrastructure, they will be blocked and will pay 1 million rubles (8,740 euros).
A second law that punishes disrespect for the authorities is focused on activists. Offenders could spend up to 15 days in jail . In more severe cases there are penalties of 10 or 15 years in prison and fines of 1.5 million rubles
According to Dmitry Peskov, presidential spokesman, the law is a measure to counteract the fake news campaign that has been unleashed in Russia. “In the context of this information war, a proportionately tough law was needed, and it was passed,” he said.
Videos circulate on Reddit of activists being arrested while launching anti-war slogans. Policemen dressed in riot gear patrol public squares in Moscow and other cities to arrest anyone who speaks out against the government.