Activists Reach Russians Behind Putin’s Propaganda Wall

Google Maps responded by temporarily blocking new reviews for sites in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. The ratings system on Maps was not designed to help people communicate about the war in Ukraine, Google told WIRED, adding that it was not possible to guarantee high-quality information in this scenario .

These efforts are random and small-scale, the digital equivalent of flying flyers and the hope that the information will have an impact. But people affiliated with the Ukrainian government are trying to smash pro-Kremlin propaganda by massively reaching out to Russians and taking advantage of two of the country’s most popular platforms, Telegram and YouTube.

On February 27, a website called 200rf Look For Yours was launched, which claims to help Russians find out if their loved ones have been captured or killed in the fighting. The name refers to the Soviet military code word, Cargo-200, used to fly corpses from Afghanistan in the 1980s. He posts a stream of images showing Russian soldiers dead or in captivity, then the images are distributed between YouTube, where videos of captured Russian soldiers are posted, and a Telegram channel, where the most gruesome images end. The Telegram channel has more than 60,000 subscribers.

The Telegram channel is bloody: it shows piles of bodies, men with broken jaws lying dead in the mud. 200rf claims to publish these images because they may contain a detail that could be essential in identifying a body at home. “I know that many Russians are worried about where and how their children, sons, husbands are and what happens to them. We have therefore decided to put this online so that each of you can search for the loved one Putin sent to fight in Ukraine,” said Viktor Andrusiv, adviser to the Minister of the Interior, in a video published on the 200rf site. Look For Yours. It is unclear whether Andrusiv launched the site independently or on behalf of the Interior Ministry. Neither responded to a request for comment.

“I think it’s a really effective strategy in that it’s not just an appeal to the Russian public, there’s also an appeal to the Russian military, so it’s two to one,” says Edelson. . “It’s demoralizing to your opponent’s fighting strength to see this, and it’s also incredibly demoralizing to their parents, friends and family back home.”

But these tactics only work when Russians share parts of the Internet with the rest of the world. Tinder, Google Maps, Telegram and YouTube act as bridges that Russians can use to interact with people who don’t see the same propaganda as they do. But the fate of these remaining platforms is uncertain. Since the start of the crisis in Ukraine, Facebook has been blocked, Twitter has been partially suspended and TikTok has said it will pause live streaming and video uploads from Russia. With each new announcement, the propaganda wall around the Russians grows stronger and less vulnerable to voices trying to break through.

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