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Politics and social media a potent mix

Removal of Chechen leader's social media accounts because of US sanctions sparks debate

Ramzan Kadyrov is the head of Russia's Muslim Chechnya region.

His Instagram account (@kadyrov_95) - claimed by some as a tool of political control - is a carefully cultivated persona that has proven popular with nearly three million followers.

Mr Kadyrov's posts include photos of himself hugging exotic animals such as tigers and reindeer, clips where he extols the virtues of exercise and military training, and overtly religious videos.

He has also posted photos with actors Gerard Depardieu and Steven Seagal, as well as boxing legend Floyd Mayweather.

The Kremlin-backed leader, who has close ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, has also praised assailants who target women with paintball pellets for going bareheaded or not covering up enough while walking around in public.

Political inclinations aside, Mr Kadyrov has also had the dubious honour of being the first person to be publicly banished from Facebook and Instagram because of US sanctions.

He had recently been placed on the list following reports of human rights abuses, particularly targeted at gay men.


A screen-grab of some of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s Instagram posts before his Instagram and Facebook accounts were deactivated. A Facebook
spokesman said he was banned because of his inclusion on the US sanctions list, but other people on the list still maintain active accounts. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/VOX

A Facebook spokesman told The Washington Post that Mr Kadyrov was banned not for the violation of the social networks' terms of service, but because of his inclusion on the list which blocks trade and financial transactions with sanctioned individuals.

"We became aware and have now confirmed that the accounts appear to be maintained by or on behalf of parties who appear on the US Specially Designated Nationals List and thus, subject to US trade sanctions," Facebook said in a statement. "For this reason, Facebook has a legal obligation to disable these accounts."

The move has sparked discussion among observers on the role that social media plays in an increasingly politicised landscape.

It seems that Facebook, a US company, is now getting behind the US government's foreign policy.

But other people on the sanctions list, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, still maintain active Facebook and Instagram accounts.

And for all of Mr Kadyrov's propaganda-fuelled posts, there are other social media accounts - such as those which might be construed as promoting racism, hate crime and paedophilia - that are still very much alive and kicking.

Observers have pointed out that a tech company that provides a platform for people to connect with one another is embarking on a slippery slope by choosing sides, legal obligations notwithstanding.

One of Mr Kadyrov's last Instagram posts before it was taken down was a video recording in which he responded to the sanctions by saying he has no reason to travel to the United States.

The Russian Internet watchdog has demanded a more detailed explanation for the move.

On his end, Mr Kadyrov says he will continue to air his views on Telegram, Twitter and new social network service Mylistory.

YOU CAN'T KEEP A GOOD DOG DOWN

US-based producer Mitch Byers and his dog Phoebe have an Instagram page with almost 1,800 followers. It is chock-full of photos of the duo travelling together, from house parties to bars to Christmas celebrations.

There is even a video of the Jack Russell decked in a Santa hat and jacket sitting on a toy train going past a Christmas tree.

The catch here is that, as strange as it sounds, Phoebe died in 2013.

She was preserved by a specialised taxidermist in Colorado in secret by Mr Byers' mother.

Mr Byers said he was surprised by Phoebe's return, but decided to take things in his stride.

The inspiration to set up the dedicated account came after one of his posts, where Phoebe is seen in a car with a sign with the message - "The dog is already dead. She's taxidermied. Please don't break my window" - went viral.

He says he hopes to encourage pet owners to opt for taxidermy for their pets "when the time comes".

TODDLER'S HIT MAKE-UP TUTORIALS SPARK CRITICISM

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A three-year-old girl named Liriana has been making waves on social media for her make-up tutorials.

Her videos on Instagram and YouTube, where she skilfully applies mascara and foundation, have garnered thousands of views.

But criticism has been directed at her mother, identified as Suella, for "exploiting" her daughter for fame.

One comment reads: "It is so sad. Children have to play, not win money for their parents."

Another said: "Worst parent ever. Why can't she just live her childhood in happiness and mess around instead of putting that on her face. Poor child."

But Suella has defended her actions, telling Yahoo that Liriana discovered her love of make-up when she was just two years old.

"She loves to copy everything that I do," Suella said. "Literally everything has to match with me: our outfits, make-up, hair."

Suella initially started recording her daughter's make-up routine to show her family, but later decided to post it on social media.

She added: "I don't think any mother would bring that negativity to their child; this is all for fun. It's a little kid playing."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 31, 2017, with the headline 'Politics and social media a potent mix'. Print Edition | Subscribe