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Russia probes 'aggressively promoted' fidget spinners that 'zombify' youth

Posted July 20

Russia's consumer watchdog has launched an investigation into fidget spinners amid claims that Russian opposition groups are using the children's toy to "zombify" youth.

It is the latest attempt by state media to explain away youth protests that have gripped the nation in recent months. The anti-corruption demonstrations held in March and June, organized by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, were the largest in Russia in years.

In late May, Navalny was captured on camera spinning the small hand toy while awaiting trial in Moscow.

Russia's consumer protection agency, Rospotrebnadzor, urged parents in a statement to be vigilant when buying the "aggressively promoted" fidget spinners and to supervise children playing with the toy. The watchdog has apparently teamed up with researchers to "study the influence" of the device on young people.

Fidget spinners -- a small gadget that started as an aide for children with attention disorders like ADD -- have become a global phenomenon among middle school-aged students. The toy, which has reached Tamagotchi-level popularity, has been banned in some schools in the United States as a distraction.

The Russian statement was released on the heels of a report on state-owned Rossiya 24, which claimed that the popular toys have been sold at anti-corruption rallies to lure in young supporters.

"Probably it is not a coincidence that they started selling the spinners at events by the opposition," Rossiya 24 host Alexey Kazakov said.

In the report, Kazakov cites an Omsk-based journalist's suggestion that the gadget could be used as "an instrument for zombifying" users, triggering a kind of "hypnosis."

It was not the channel's first segment on the device, which featured in another news broadcast that aired last month.

Fidget spinners "were already seen in the hands of a non-systemic opposition," Kazakov claimed in the piece. Kazakov's co-anchor, Nikolay Sokolov, raised suspicion over the provenance and dissemination of the toy.

"It's a mystery why it only recently became so popular in Russia. Who is pushing it into the masses?" Sokolov asked, suggesting that fidget spinners had been sold at an opposition protest against corruption on June 12.

Russian independent journalist Alexey Kovalev was among those to call the bizarre broadcast into question, tweeting: "Fidget spinners are used by opposition to pacify followers and distract them from real issues. Because that's what opposition usually does."

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