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 official media have found an uncensored alternative in Clubhouse.
An Input report details how anti-war activists from multiple cities in Russia use Clubhouse to find out what is happening in the world. The 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 circumvent 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 to know the true motives of Russia.
"Clubhouse gives Russians the 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 St. Petersburg, says she doesn't want to get into trouble, but she doesn't plan to keep quiet 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 passed an initiative banning the dissemination of false information in the public interest in a bid to "promote greater accountability and discipline the population."
Those citizens or companies that disseminate information not authorized by the government must eliminate it within a period of no more than 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. Violators 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 proportionally tough law was needed, and it was passed," he said.