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WhatsApp cancels new Russia scheme

The Meta-owned messenger will not launch the ‘Channels’ feature, to avoid belong blocked by the Russian authorities

Russian users of Meta’s WhatsApp messenger will not receive access to a new feature that would allow them to create and view media channels, the Moscow Times reported on Monday, citing a Meta spokesperson.

“The product will not be available to users within Russia anytime soon,” the spokesperson said, noting that the feature will, however, be launched in a total of 150 countries.

In a blog post in June, WhatsApp described ‘Channels’ as “a one-way broadcast tool for admins to send text, photos, videos, stickers, and polls” to their followers. The platform has invited celebrities, sports teams, artists, creators, and “thought leaders” to take advantage of the new feature.

According to the Moscow Times, Meta decided to scrap the feature in Russia to avoid being blocked in the country, as was done to Facebook and Instagram. Both apps were banned after Meta was designated as an extremist organization for allowing hate speech against Russian nationals and distributing what Moscow deemed to be false information about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

At the time, lawmakers made an exception for WhatsApp, arguing that the messenger is a means of communication rather than posting information. 

Earlier this month, Russia’s media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, and the State Duma threatened to reconsider the exception if the app expands its functionality to become more than a simple messaging platform.

“If the product of the extremist company Meta begins to expand its functionality towards mass dissemination of information, the official position regarding its activities on the territory of the Russian Federation may be revised,” the first deputy head of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy, Anton Gorelkin, said.

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Senator Viktor Bondarev, a member of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, wrote that WhatsApp’s Channels feature would cause “particular concern,” as it could turn the app into a “means of information warfare.”

Bondarev said the exception for WhatsApp should be reviewed and that Moscow should instead follow in the steps of China, which has its own WeChat app, and create a “fully local messaging platform.” 

Meanwhile, the senator urged Russian users to use alternatives to WhatsApp such as Yandex Messenger and Telegram, which he described as “friendly to the Russian information space.”

September 26, 2023 at 05:35PM

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