Russian authorities threatened YouTube and other tech giants with steep fines, as well as criminal charges for local employees, if they refused to remove references to an app Navalny developed.
Freedom of Speech… Kinda
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki is facing criticism for stressing the platform’s commitment to free speech on Monday just weeks after it removed posts from its site at Russia’s request.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Wojcicki claimed that free speech is one of the company’s core values. However, many found the remarks particularly interesting because of YouTube’s recent decision to comply with the Russian government’s demand to silence jailed politician Alexei Navalny and an app his group developed to help voters.
Google, Apple, and other tech giants were ordered to remove references and search results related to Navalny’s Smart Voting app from their platforms after the Moscow Arbitration Tribunal claimed the app was illegal due to its connection to Navalny-backed groups that were labeled as “extremists” earlier this year. The app connected voters with what few opposition candidates were left in the recent federal parliamentary elections after many were banned by the government from running.
In the end, Google and Apple caved and took the Smart Voting app off their platforms. YouTube then followed by taking down a Smart Voting video.
In her Bloomberg interview, Wojcicki justified the company’s decision by saying, “When we work with governments, there are many things that we have to take in consideration, whether it’s local laws or what’s happening on the ground. So there’s always going to be multiple considerations.”
Wojcicki declined to comment about the specific requests from the Russian government, but for many, like notable Russian dissident Gary Kasparov, her comments came off as insincere.
“Sorry, but if you say “but” after stating that free speech is a core value of your company, maybe you don’t have any core values at all,” Kasparov wrote in a tweet critiqued Wojcicki’s remarks.
Russian Threats Against Tech
Despite being behind bars, also Navalny tweeted about the situation himself.
“If something surprised me in the latest elections, it was not how Putin forged the results, but how obediently the almighty Big Tech turned into his accomplices,” he wrote. “I know that most of those who work at Google, Apple, etc. are honest and good people. I urge them not to put up with the cowardice of their bosses.”
Google also faced internal backlash for caving to the demands. According to several reports, employees blasted the company for taking down the Voting Smart app and requiring YouTube to remove a video about it. However, it’s likely YouTube and Google were in a tough spot. That’s because Russian authorities threatened to levy hefty fines against companies that refused to take down Smart Voting and even threatened to bring serious criminal charges against local staff if the companies didn’t follow the ruling.
To some, the decision is simple: Companies like Google should leave Russia. Doing so, however, would signify the effective end of open anti-Putin discussion online in Russia. Many young people and opposition members rely on non-Russian platforms like Google, YouTube, and Telegram to stay informed and share their experiences. YouTube, in particular, has long been described as a safe haven for free journalism and anti-government opinions.
Wojcicki touched on this in her Bloomberg interview. “I think we really want to make sure that we’re working and serving audiences as much as we possibly can,” she said, adding, “if it comes to a point where there’s an issue with the government, we’ll do our best always to work that out.”
The increased scrutiny on the situation seems to have caused further headaches for Navalny and his allies. On Tuesday, Russian authorities opened an investigation into whether or not he and two others founded an extremist organization, which carries a 10-year prison sentence. If found guilty, he would not be out of prison prior to the next presidential election in 2024.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (Associated Press) (Radio Free Europe)
YouTuber Accused of Murder After Using Livestream as Alibi
Stephen McCullagh may have eluded the authority’s suspicion if not for CCTV footage that allegedly puts him near the scene of the crime.
Police Peer Behind the Veil
A Northern Ireland YouTuber was charged with murdering a pregnant woman last week, and police told the court he used his livestream as an alibi.
On Dec. 18, 32-year-old Natalie McNally was stabbed to death in her Silverwood Green home in Lurgan. She was 15 weeks pregnant.
Police initially arrested Stephen McCullagh, also 32 years old, but soon released him after he persuaded them he was livestreaming the night the murder happened.
McCullagh, from Woodland Gardens in Lisburn, is a part-time assistant audience editor for the Belfast Telegraph and has a YouTube channel with over 30,000 subscribers.
His livestream was indeed active on the night McNally was murdered, but the footage of him playing the video game Grand Theft Auto was pre-recorded days earlier, according to a technical examination of his devices by cyber experts.
Senior detective Neil McGuinness told district judge Rosie Watters that McCullagh denied any involvement in the crime but admitted that the livestream was faked in a written statement.
The YouTuber later revised his story from that night to claim he drank alone at home then fell asleep.
Prosecutors alleged the suspect had devised a “sophisticated, calculated and cool-headed plot” and was “capable of deception beyond imagination.”
Damning Evidence Comes to Light
Police told the court they can trace McCullagh’s movements from the crime scene back to his home on Dec. 18 using CCTV footage from a bus and an account from a taxi driver.
A man police believe to be McCullagh is seen boarding the bus with his hood pulled down and scarf pulled up.
According to the statement, the man removes a black glove to accept his change from the driver, revealing a second yellow glove underneath.
McGuinness said it was consistent with the print of a Marigold glove found in a blood stain at the crime scene.
Police also believe the same man boarded a taxi. Based on an analysis of GPS data, authorities say the cab allegedly stopped at McCullagh’s address.
At the beginning of McCullagh’s pre-recorded stream, he told his audience that he couldn’t respond to their live chat messages because of technical difficulties.
“I could use my phone to dip in every now and again and check it, but I’ve decided that I kind of hate livestreams where people just sit and read comments and go, ‘oh my God, yes, ask me questions,’” he added.
Police allege he deliberately referred to the time and said “I’m not leaving the house tonight” to reinforce his alibi.
At one point, he expresses fear about rising crime and underfunded police.
“That’s why I love sticking to just doing crimes in a video game,” he said. “Keeps things simple, mate.”
See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (Irish Mirror)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.