Spilnota Detector Media
Русскій фейк, іді на***!

Tactics and tools How Russian propaganda uses anonymous telegram channels to achieve its own goals

Telegram is a Russian multi-platform messenger that also provides optional end-to-end encrypted chats (better known as “secret chats”) and video calls, VoIP, file sharing, and some others. Its author is the co-founder of the social network Vkontakte, Russian IT specialist and businessman Pavel Durov. The service is based on the MTProto correspondence encryption technology developed by his brother Mykola. Telegram shows stable growth in the number of users around the world. On June 20, 2022 the company announced the achievement of a figure in 700 million users.

Anonymous telegram channels first appeared in Russia in the second half of 2016. Their appearance and growth was facilitated, in fact, by the complete destruction of independent media in the country and censorship by the Putin regime. At the beginning of its existence, anonymous telegrams were used more in Russian domestic political conflicts than for pro-government propaganda. Due to the monopolization of power in the Russian Federation by the United Russia party, representatives of the Russian establishment have very limited opportunities for mutual public criticism. In mid-2018, anonymous telegrams began to rapidly gain popularity in Russia and were used for Kremlin propaganda. Initially, subscribers were cheated at the expense of false users - “bots”.

At the end of 2018 - beginning of 2019, new and a sharp increase in existing anonymous telegram channels aimed at Ukrainian readers took place. These channels, both engaged in covert Russian propaganda, masquerading as pro-Ukrainian ones, were also used in the internal political struggle among Ukrainian politicians. At the beginning of 2021, the SBU exposed a network of Russian intelligence agencies spreading enemy propaganda through a number of telegram channels. These were both pseudo-pro-Ukrainian channels engaged in covert propaganda, as well as openly pro-Russian ones, oriented mainly to the south and east of Ukraine. Among the “pseudo-pro-Ukrainian” channels, such large and well-known ones as Lehitymnyi (Legitimacy), Resident, Cartel, Splietnitsa (Gossip Girl), etc. should be singled out. Russian propaganda channels for certain regions of Ukraine are represented by such ones as Odessa fraer, Trempel Kharkov, Dnepr live, Atypical Zaporozhie and others. The Russians expected to seize more territories than they managed, so they created separate channels for the largest cities of Ukraine, which were supposed to operate under the conditions of occupation and justify it. When the occupation did not take place, these Telegram channels did not close, but are still active, spreading manipulations, fakes and disinformation to undermine the credibility of the central and local authorities. Also, Russian propaganda in early 2022 created a new network of telegram channels intended for the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.

Pseudo-pro-Ukrainian channels present information, at first glance, supposedly in the interests of Ukraine. They can call Ukrainians “ours”, and Russia an enemy, and even harshly criticize its government. But the Ukrainian authorities are always positioned as inefficient, corrupt and dependent on the West, or even worse than Russian ones. Anti-Western narratives are also promoted to discredit our allies in the eyes of Ukrainians. Anonymous telegram channels are distinguished by “convincing” storytelling and original text style, emphasizing that information from the highest echelons of power is “closed” to the average reader, which everyone probably wants to own; that only they, an anonymous telegram channel, tell the people the truth, while traditional media lie. If you see the words “source” and “insider” in an anonymous telegram channel, it is most likely disinformation.

Some Ukrainians still trust these telegram channels, despite all the efforts of organizations and media that counteract disinformation, and there are several reasons for this. First, the global trend of declining trust in traditional media and centralized formats for presenting information. Trust in bloggers, opinion leaders (so-called LSD) and anonymous information channels is growing. Secondly, before the war, most of the Ukrainian media belonged to the oligarchs and broadcast messages that were beneficial for them. Thirdly, it is the low level of media literacy and critical thinking of some journalists and editors. Links to anonymous telegram channels legitimize the disinformation posted there and make fact-checking more difficult. These channels may also contain misinformation (false information without the intent to harm), however, it can also have dangerous consequences: for example, causing panic in society.

NGO “Detector Media” has been working for our readers for over 20 years. In times of elections, revolutions, pandemics and war, we continue to fight for quality journalism. Our experts develop media literacy of the audience, advocate for the rights of journalists, and refute Russian disinformation.

“Detector Media” resumes the work of our Community and invites those who believe that the media should be better: more professional, truthful and transparent.