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Duolingo removes references to LGBTQ+ after receiving warning from Russia

Duolingo removes references to LGBTQ+ after receiving warning from Russia

Image source: © Duolingo / X
Marta Grzeszczuk,
07.06.2024 12:00

The creators of Duolingo attempted to celebrate Pride Month on social media by publishing several LGBTQ-themed posts. However, simultaneously, the company removed all queer references from the Russian version of the app. Internet users have accused Duolingo of 'pinkwashing'.

Duolingo, the world's most popular language learning app, boasts 56.5 million monthly active users. Like many other corporations, Duolingo changed its social media logo to a rainbow design to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month. On 4 June, the app published a post on X where the 'day' in the English names of the days of the week was changed to 'gay' - 'Mongay, Tuesgay,' and so on.

Duolingo removes LGBTQ+ content from the Russian version of the app

On 5 June, news broke that Duolingo had removed all explicit and alluded references to queerness from the Russian version of the app at the government's request. According to Reuters, "the company removed references to what Moscow calls 'non-traditional sexual relations' in Russia after being warned by Russia's communications regulator about publishing LGBT content classified as 'extremist.'"

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Last year, Russia extended restrictions on what it calls 'LGBT propaganda' as part of a broader repression of LGBTQ+ rights. President Vladimir Putin has sought to portray the acquisition of equal rights by this minority in Western countries as evidence of moral decline, thereby fuelling internal hostility towards Western nations.

Duolingo has complied with Roskomnadzor

On Tuesday, 5 June, Russian news agencies reported that Duolingo had sent a letter to Roskomnadzor in response, confirming that it had removed material promoting non-traditional sexual relations from its training app. Roskomnadzor is Russia's Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media.

A spokesperson for the app, whose owner is based in the US, issued a statement to the media: "Unfortunately, local laws prohibit us from including certain content in Russia. Duolingo’s mission is to expand access to quality education around the world and we’re committed to maintaining access to our product everywhere that is legal to do so."

Many people on social media commented that, as with any corporation, Duolingo is primarily "committed to making a profit."

What is ‘pinkwashing’?

Changing a corporation's logo to a rainbow one during Pride Month is often referred to as ‘pinkwashing’—the use of LGBTQ+ minority symbolism to superficially signal support for an issue important to many customers. ‘Pinkwashing’ occurs when there is no genuine action behind the ‘rainbow’ logo to support the queer community.

What Duolingo has done represents the highest possible level of ‘pinkwashing’. It is one thing to performatively ‘fly the rainbow flag’ in June; it is quite another to do so while actively contributing to the repression of LGBTQ+ individuals. In this case, the relatively new term ‘pinkwashing’ is unnecessary; the ‘good old "hypocrisy"’ will suffice.

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