February 23, 2023

Bye-Bye, YouTube?


Bye-Bye, YouTube?
A message in Russian from YouTube saying that a video is blocked in Germany. YouTube, Wikimedia Commons

After invading Ukraine, the Russian government quickly blocked Western social media outlets such as Instagram and Facebook, but not YouTube. On February 17, however, Meduza revealed that the Kremlin is discussing shutting down access to the video platform.

In January, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, declared: "YouTube will be closed soon. And then, those actively using YouTube for their part will be identified and punished after the ban takes effect." While Prigozhin is not a government official, he is a Kremlin insider.

The state-run platform VKontakte (VK) is being updated to compete with the American video platform, and Meduza alleges that the ban won't be implemented until this is completed. VK now controls Medium Quality, which produces widely-viewed Youtube shows such as "Chto Bylo Dalshe?" (What Happened Next) and "Vnutry Lapenko" (Inside Lapenko). The most popular blogger in Russia, the Belarussian Vlad Bumaga, is reportedly leaving YouTube for VK Video.

YouTube has been the home of independent news channels and dissidents fleeing government crackdowns since before the war. In fact, Alexey Navalny, the president of Russia's main political rival, cultivated his base in large part thanks to the video-hosting service

No formal announcement has yet been made about the banning of YouTube in Russia. However, a government source told Meduza: "Our president [Vladimir Putin] definitely doesn't use YouTube and poorly understands how it works. The block is meant as further escalation [with the West]."

Of course, use of a VPN would allow a Russian user to circumvent any ban, and a ban of a high-bandwidth service like YouTube would put a serious strain on VPN apps. Over 35 million VPN downloads were recorded in 2022.

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