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Russian social media network caught deleting photos of mock Putin grave

Meduza
Update: Two local activists were detained on March 12 in connection with the appearance of the mock grave. In the meantime, VKontakte has notified Meduza that it will restore deleted photos of the protest sculpture. Its content moderators previously believed that the images were photoshopped but have since been convinced otherwise.

On March 10, in the city of Naberezhnye Chelny, activists affiliated with the group Unlimited Protest installed a sculpture designed to be a mock grave of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The sculpture consisted of a black gravestone with Putin’s photograph and the engraving 1952-2019, and it was created as part of broader protests against the separation of the Russian Internet from the World Wide Web. A channel on the social platform Telegram published the first known photograph of the piece alongside the caption, “Putin buried the free Internet — the residents of Naberezhnye Chelny buried Putin.”

On the same day, photographs of the grave began circulating in various groups on the social network VKontakte. By March 11, Otkrytye Media reported that several group administrators on VKontakte had simultaneously noticed that posts about the sculpture had been deleted. One group’s administrators explained that the network had removed one of those posts from their page without explaining its reasoning.

VKontakte representatives told Meduza that the photographs had been deleted because of “numerous complaints” about their content. The social network emphasized that it understands its users’ wishes to “experience less frequent encounters with posts that delude or confuse them.” It also wrote that the photographs were comparable to “knowingly false information about the fictional death of a well-known figure” and could be mistaken for an indication of a national emergency.

“In cases where users shared these posts simply to ask about their factuality but did not present them as a verifiable fact, we rejected users’ complaints about intentional delusion,” the company’s representatives concluded.