Citing Russia’s ‘broadcast moratorium,’ in a blow to Navalny’s Smart Vote initiative, Telegram suddenly suspends all bots ‘associated with campaigning’

In a message on Friday evening, Telegram founder Pavel Durov announced that the popular instant messenger is suspending support for all “bots associated with election campaigning” during Russia’s parliamentary elections, which began today and conclude on Sunday, September 19.

Justifying the decision, Durov explained in a post on his Telegram channel that the network will observe Russia’s “broadcast moratorium” during the voting process. “We consider this practice to be legitimate and call on Telegram users to respect it. Beginning at midnight, Moscow time [September 18], we plan to restrict the functionality of bots associated with election campaigning.” 

Durov’s announcement appeared at 11:56 p.m., Moscow time, on September 17.

Though Durov did not single out Alexey Navalny’s strategic voting initiative, Smart Vote, the new Telegram policy would appear to be another devastating blow to the project, which has been the target of an unprecedented censorship campaign by the Russian government over the past month. After Apple and Google disabled Russian users’ access to the Navalny app on September 17 — and thanks to varyingly successful efforts to block direct access to Team Navalny’s websites — Smart Vote had relied increasingly on disseminating its election endorsements through its Telegram bot.

At the time of this writing, Smart Vote’s Telegram bot remained functional.

Update: At the time of this writing, Smart Vote’s Telegram bot is no longer functional (in Russia or anywhere in the world).

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