But the seemingly Sisyphean scramble by the Russian authorities to get social networks to remove pro-Navalny content highlighted what is increasingly emerging as a major vulnerability for the Kremlin: the availability of low-cost, high-speed, mostly uncensored internet access in almost every populated corner of the country’s 11 time zones.
The government has tried and largely failed to rein in the internet. Last year, for example, it dropped a two-year-long effort to block the messaging network Telegram, a ban that users quickly found ways to circumvent.
On Friday, Russia’s telecommunications regulator, Roskomnadzor, said YouTube, Instagram and the Russian social network VKontakte had begun following an order from Russia’s prosecutor-general that they remove “calls for children to participate in illegal mass events.”
Facebook, which owns Instagram, denied that it had removed any content.
“We’ve received requests from the local regulator to restrict access to certain content that calls for protest,” Facebook said in a statement. “Since this content doesn’t violate our community standards, it remains on our platform.”
The other social networks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The biggest problem, the regulator said, was TikTok, the Chinese-owned app that hosts seconds-long viral videos, often musically themed. Videos marked with the #Navalny hashtag on the network had been viewed more than 800 million times by Friday.
In one clip “liked” more than 500,000 times, a young woman who provides pithy English lessons offered tips on how to sound like an American — “I’m gonna call my lawyer!” — if detained at the protests.
“The highest level of activity continues on the social network,” Roskomnadzor said in a statement, referring to TikTok. “New appeals are appearing, in some cases being disseminated in an artificial manner.”