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Ukraine War: How Russian Propaganda Found a Way to ‘Avoid Detection’ Online

Russia has come up with a new strategy to spread disinformation to potentially millions of people while avoiding detection, experts say.

The Kremlin’s propaganda wing is seen as a key weapon in its war against Ukraine, but it has faced a crackdown in recent months.

Now Russia is using social media network Telegram to help it bypass telltale signs that would identify the content as Moscow-backed propaganda to tech giants like Twitter, according to a report by Nisosan intelligence firm based in the United States.

Researchers found a channel on Telegram used as a digital warehouse storing thousands of videos translated into 18 languages, including English, Arabic and Chinese.

Once on Telegram, the videos can be uploaded and shared on Twitter and other networks without any indication that they were produced by Russian state-affiliated media, Nisos said.

This means that Kremlin propaganda could go unreported by major social media companies that have tried to reduce disinformation on their networks.

“The genius of this approach is that the videos can be downloaded directly from Telegram and it clears the trail researchers are trying to follow,” said Nisos senior intelligence analyst Patricia Bailey.

The Telegram group, which the researchers say is sponsored by RT, writes that it is trying to “break the information blockade around events in Ukraine” in its description.

“The whole truth in Ukraine’s most important videos in 17 foreign languages. Share these videos with your friends abroad. Join the information militia!” the band’s bio reads.

More than 8,000 videos have been shared, such as apparent testimonies from alleged Ukrainian bombing victims and messages of support for Russian troops by people living in Ukraine.

Some of the images have a green RT logo from the state-owned outlet – although it appears to have been blurred out in other videos about the group.

“The overall goal, consistent with Russian propaganda goals, is to reframe the narrative of the war in Ukraine,” Nisos wrote in his report.

“The channel’s videos all tell the same story from different angles, claiming that the Russian military generously rescues a Ukrainian population besieged by a corrupt and genocidal government and Nazi militants.”

The videos are also translated into languages ​​such as Portuguese, Italian, Persian, French and Vietnamese.

When the Telegram group was launched in April 2022, RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said it was part of the “people’s information militia” to facilitate the global dissemination of pro-Russian perspectives.

It came in response to a Western ban on Russian state-owned media channels, including RT, on channels such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

Videos can be shared on Twitter without being flagged by the network’s tagging system, which alerts users if the content is produced by Russian state media.

Videos are also posted on other networks, including TruthSocial, the social media site created by former US President Donald Trump, Nisos researchers have found.

Of 275 Twitter profiles analyzed by Nisos that had shared videos from the Telegram group, the researchers found that nearly half had posted in the exact same format, which they say is a sign of a coordinated disinformation effort.

Nisos said a quarter of all accounts sharing the content displayed “bot-like characteristics” based on their activity patterns, followers and language.

However, the researchers noted that some users may have shared the videos independently.

Twitter said it labeled content it could identify as coming from Russian state media.

“We use labels to clearly indicate on Twitter when an account is operated by a state actor, such as state-backed media, and we will not endorse or amplify Tweets from these types of accounts,” said a Twitter spokesperson.

Repression of Russian propaganda

Governments and tech companies have taken steps to counter Russian propaganda since the start of the war in Ukraine.

In March, the EU suspended the broadcasting activities of Sputnik and RT/Russia Today in the bloc until the Kremlin ended its dispute.

“If information is systematically contaminated with lies and distorted, citizens cannot have a clear understanding of reality and their political judgment is also distorted,” EU diplomat Josep Borrell said earlier this year.

Borrell said the Moscow-controlled media was part of a well-oiled propaganda machine providing biased information about Vladimir Putin’s true intentions.

Social media companies have also retaliated against disinformation being pumped out of Russia.

Google, owner of YouTube, announced in March that it was banning Russian state media from accessing the video-sharing platform.

Meta also banned the same media from Facebook and Instagram.

Twitter removed RT and Sputnik from its platform to make users in EU territories comply with the bloc’s sanctions on Russian state media.

euronews Gt

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