Duolingo succumbs to Russian LGBT censorship demands

Freemium language learning platform Duolingo has agreed to remove all content “with LGBT propaganda” from the app, the Russian news agency TASS reported, citing a letter to Roskomandzor.

Roskomandzor is a Russian federal executive agency responsible for monitoring, controlling, and censoring Russian mass media. Roskomnadzor demanded that Duolingo check its content for “the dissemination of LGBT propaganda” and eliminate violations. LGBT organizations are recognized as extremist and banned in the Russian Federation.

“The Duolingo company sent a response letter to Roskomnadzor, in which it confirmed that it had removed materials promoting non-traditional sexual relationships from the educational application,” the department spokesperson said to TASS.

The fines for “LGBT propaganda” in Russia range from 1 to 4 million rubles, or about $11,000–$45,000. The organizations also risk restrictions to the resources violating legal requirements.

A Duolingo spokesperson told Reuters that they “support LGBTQ+ rights and believe in normalizing LGBTQ+ representation” in content, but, unfortunately, “local laws prohibit us from including certain content in Russia.”

The popular language-learning app was hit by a significant data leak last year. Hackers scraped information on 2.6 million people and shared the data on the illicit marketplace BreachForums. Later last year, researchers also titled the app an “undisputed champion of tracking.”

Duolingo’s 2023 report reveals that Russian fell from the top 10 list of the most popular languages, with Portuguese taking the tenth spot. Interest in the Russian language has decreased in light of the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, 37% of new learners on the platform are studying Ukrainian to connect with people – this proportion is “considerably higher than for other languages,” Duolingo noted.

Russians mostly use the platform to learn English and German.