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Duolingo Removes LGBTQ+ References from Russian App Following Government Pressure

WorldRussiaDuolingo Removes LGBTQ+ References from Russian App Following Government Pressure

In response to demands from Russia’s state media watchdog, Duolingo has excised all references to LGBTQ+ individuals in the Russian version of its language learning app.

The decision, reported by the state-run news agency TASS on Tuesday, follows threats of substantial fines and potential bans under Russia’s stringent “LGBT propaganda” law.

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This spring, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media regulator, ordered Duolingo to comply with the law after conservative activists highlighted phrases in the app such as “Ben and Peter love each other” and “Clara met her wife Maria at a lesbian bar.”

These phrases were deemed to violate the ban on promoting “non-traditional sexual relations.”

Faced with the prospect of a 4 million ruble fine (approximately $45,000) or a possible ban, Duolingo confirmed its compliance.

“Duolingo has sent a letter of reply to Roskomnadzor confirming that it had removed materials promoting non-traditional sexual relations from the learning app,” Roskomnadzor stated to TASS.

The report has not been independently verified, and Duolingo has yet to publicly comment on the matter.

However, this move underscores the increasing pressures on international companies operating in Russia amid the country’s tightening control over LGBTQ+ expression and rights.

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Russia initially enacted the “gay propaganda” law in 2013, which prohibited the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” to minors.

Last year, President Vladimir Putin expanded the law, extending the prohibition to all public displays of LGBTQ+ relationships and lifestyles, regardless of age.

This expanded ban is part of Putin’s broader cultural and ideological conflict with the West, intensifying since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Rights organizations have repeatedly criticized the Russian government for its ambiguous definition of what constitutes “gay propaganda.”

They argue that the vague criteria allow for arbitrary enforcement, potentially leading to fines or bans for media channels and websites at the government’s discretion.

Duolingo, which disabled monetization in Russia and Belarus last year in solidarity with Ukraine, is the latest in a series of Western companies forced to navigate Russia’s increasingly repressive legislative landscape.

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The country’s heightened restrictions have created a challenging environment for businesses attempting to balance ethical considerations with regulatory compliance.

In December 2022, Russia’s Supreme Court went further, designating the non-existent “international LGBT movement” as “extremist,” effectively criminalizing LGBTQ+ activism.

This designation has contributed to the climate of fear and suppression surrounding LGBTQ+ rights in the country.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Putin has accelerated the crackdown on the LGBTQ+ community, framing it as part of a broader “culture war” with the West.

This intensification has seen increased censorship, the closure of LGBTQ+ organizations, and heightened risks for individuals engaging in or supporting LGBTQ+ activities.

The removal of LGBTQ+ references from Duolingo is a stark example of the far-reaching implications of Russia’s repressive laws on both local and international entities.

It highlights the complex and often perilous landscape faced by companies operating under authoritarian regimes, where compliance with draconian laws can come at the cost of marginalized communities’ visibility and rights.

 

This article was created using automation technology and was thoroughly edited and fact-checked by one of our editorial staff members

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