The U.S. social media companies, YouTube and Instagram must resist Russia's demand that they remove content containing evidence of corruption in Moscow.
The issue at stake relates to a new investigative video by Russian activist and journalist, Alexei Navalny. In his video, Navalny documents efforts by billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska to woo Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko with lavish treatment and high-end escorts. Specifically, Navalny strongly implicates Deripaska in having taken Prikhodko on a yacht-vacation alongside escorts such as Nastya Rybka.
This has infuriated both Deripaska and Putin's government in highlighting Russia's intimate synergy of wealth and political power.
Unfortunately, Google — which owns YouTube — is now pushing Navalny to take down his video.
They must cease this effort immediately.
After all, Putin's Russia is a mafia state in which far too few have the courage to speak up against corruption and injustice. That makes Navalny's courage priceless.
Of course, it is for that reason — as I've explained — that Navalny is so despised by the Russian elites. His relentless efforts to unveil their venal attitude to public service shine a light on the reality of Putin's Russia. Moreover, in an era in which Russian fake news is a constant threat to the democratic rule of law, the ability of social media companies to host truly courageous reporting has never been more important.
Indeed, there's a beautiful irony here in that Putin and his cronies are now being forced to taste the fact that social media can be used against them as well as by them.
That speaks to a broader point: Putin's position is weak here.
While the Russian leader frequently has Navalny thrown in jail, Navalny's massive social media following and his clean public persona prevent Putin from shutting him down entirely. While Putin's preference would be for Navalny to accidentally get hit by a car, the Russian journalist's stature means that his demise would likely spark new international sanctions. And Putin's crap economy cannot handle that.
And that is why Deripaska and Putin are pressuring U.S. social media companies. It's their best option for getting their desired outcome without making Navalny a martyr.
But they must fail. Google and Instagram are American companies doing the most American of things: offering free enterprise and free speech in an environment that has far too little of either.