Last weekend, Russian internet giant Yandex launched (Rus) a test version of its own social media network, Aura. The key difference with platforms like Facebook is that your newsfeed is not made up of posts by your friends, but by an algorithm’s calculation of your interests. Aura’s interface actually looks a lot like Tinder. Currently, you can only join Aura by invitation, but this was halted several days ago (Yandex said the hiatus is temporary). And there are strict rules: Aura will delete posts containing even the most innocent slang words and has some bizarre restrictions, including posting “insects and animals whose appearance may be offensive”. For all this, Yandex has been accused of censorship.
- When registering, Aura users select at least three topics of interest – for example, travel, electronic music, and art. On the basis of these choices, it chooses the posts to show in your newsfeed, which can be swiped like Tinder. This is not the only similarity with the popular dating app: Aura also has a function called ‘smart matching’ where users can meet other users for “relationships and communication”.
- The first users (Rus) complained about Aura’s rules. They realised that, in addition to standard bans on insults, offensive language and images of “intimate body parts”, the service forbids the use of slang – for example, bablo (slang for money) or narkota (slang for drugs). It also bans showing someone giving birth and “illnesses and deformities”. All of this is much stricter than the limits enforced by Facebook or its Russian equivalent, VKontakte, whose users already complain about censorship. Aura’s policies have already led to jokes like “I stepped into Aura and ruined my karma”, but this hasn’t stopped people from being very keen to sign up for it.
- This was not the only time Yandex was accused of censorship last week: Yandex.Zen, was also criticised (Rus). A platform like Google.News which accumulates media and blog content, Yandex.Zen suggested one blogger change the word ‘sex’ in an article about Netflix’s show Sex Education. And a partner program of Yandex.Zen rejected an entry due to nude images — in this case in the 18th century painting Hercules and Omphale by Francois Bouche.
Why the world should care
When Yandex, widely seen as progressive force, launches a popular social network is immediately popular despite such strict limits on what is permitted, it is a sign of the times. Both Yandex and Aura users understand that in Russia it is impossible to operate without stricter censorship than Facebook.