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Russia: Kremlin targets TikTok over content critical of Putin

DW, 26 Mar 2021
In Russia, the Kremlin has been tightening its grip on social media platforms. This month the country's media watchdog threatened to block sites like Twitter if they fail to remove banned content. And now the video-sharing platform TikTok is on the Kremlin's radar as well. During opposition protests in support of Alexei Navalny, the site was flooded with political content. And as DW correspondent Emily Sherwin reports, that means scrutiny for the site's 20 million Russian users.
Time could be ticking for these TikTok bloggers - the unlikely new enemy for the Kremlin.
The social network is mostly about entertainment – with videos of pranks and dance routines. But this month, at a meeting with the police, Russian president Vladimir Putin made it clear he wants the authorities to be watching anyway.
TikTok in particular has been on the authorities' radar since the return of opposition politician Alexei Navalny to Russia. His arrest in January caused a wave of opposition protests across the country – and a sudden explosion of politics on TikTok.
Teenagers filmed themselves at schools replacing portraits of Putin with portraits of Navalny. Another TikTok trend was videos of teens getting ready to protest and telling their parents they might get arrested.
Russia's media watchdog responded by calling on TikTok to block videos calling for unauthorized protests – and this month threatened to block social networks completely if they don't comply with Russian laws.
But some Moscow TikTokers want to keep dancing to their own tune – without thinking about politics. Every week bloggers meet at a so-called TikTok House with their producers – to consult about their accounts and collaborate with each other.
To stay on trend, TikTokers like Veronika Reznikova film two to three videos a day. The 17-year-old thinks the videos about politics were just a short-lived trend. Fitness blogger Diana Sonina also says she doesn't want TikTok to become a political platform.
But being neutral may soon no longer be possible, according Maksim Petrenchuk, one of the owners of the PR agency promoting these bloggers. For now these TikTokers are steering clear of politics. But even they know that the Kremlin will be watching closely if they ever get out of step.


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