Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte continues to speak highly of his growing relationship with Russia and specifically the respect that Russia shows him personally and his country as a whole. While thus far bilateral issues have centred around security and arms cooperation, there exists a monumental potential for The Philippines to develop closer trading and cultural ties with Russia, not least through Manila helping to broker a free trading agreement between the Russian centred Eurasian Economic Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
With Facebook set to launch a censorship drive against Duterte supporters by working with the law breaking anti-Duterte Rappler outlet and the dubious Vera Files group, many Filipino social media users are flocking to VK (VKontakte), a social media platform often called the Russian Facebook. VK was started by Pavel Durov, a 33 year old entrepreneur from St. Petersburg and its popularity continues to grow outside the Russian speaking world where it is already more popular than Facebook or Twitter. Durov also stated the Telegram messaging service, an incredibly popular app that can be used not only for person to person contacts, but is also increasingly popular with media outlets and public figures to disseminate information. Eurasia Future for example has its own Telegram channel which can be found here.
Today, Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor has made moves to block access to Telegram in the Russian Federation due to the company’s refusal to give the government its encryption keys which protect user privacy. Durov issued a statement on his own Telegram channel where he said,
“The power that local governments have over IT corporations is based on money. At any given moment, a government can crash their stocks by threatening to block revenue streams from its markets and thus force these companies to do strange things (remember how last year Apple moved iCloud servers to China).
At Telegram, we have the luxury of not caring about revenue streams or ad sales. Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed”.
Durov also stated that Russia’s move only harms a friendly Russian company as some Russians might switch to US based platforms that have a history of handing user data to the American government. He stated,
“Russia’s national security will decrease because a share of Russians’ personal data would be transferred from a neutral to Russia platform to WhatsApp and Facebook, controlled from the United States”.
Durov makes an incredibly valid point. Unlike many US companies, Facebook being the most infamous, VK protects its users from censorship while Telegram protects its users from breaches of privacy. This is something that ought to be celebrated both by the private and public sectors in Russia and beyond. Durov’s inventions should be thought of as the pride of Russia and instead, the government is harassing Telegram over an issue that can be easily worked out through dialogue.
As all this is happening, Russian business spokesmen are missing out on the opportunity to promote both VK and Telegram in The Philippines where millions of Duterte supporters are looking for a safe and free place to share important information and opinions on the political issues of the day. Such a move could help foster the growing relationship between The Philippines and Russia, one which can only be to the mutual benefit of both countries and cultures.
Roskomnadzor should immediately reconsider and ultimately reverse its decision. These energies should instead be channelled into fostering a win-win relationship with countries throughout the world that are looking for freer and fairer alternatives to the US social media and messing applications that have been compromised through corporate and political corruption.