How Ukrainians bypass Russian censorship to spread war news

Sending push notifications via the face swap app, adding images of destruction from the bombings in Ukraine to Google Maps, hacking electric chargers… These are some of the tricks Ukrainians use to bypass the strict censorship of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and to make sure that accurate information about thewarin Ukraine arrives. to ordinary Russians.

President Putin has blocked or limited access to foreign news coverage in Russia about the war in Ukraine, including on Facebook and Twitter. Russia’s state communications and media censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, also passed a censorship law prohibiting Russian journalists from using the words “war,” “invasion” or “attack” when talking about a “special operation” in Ukraine.

In response, ordinary Ukrainians have found creative ways to combat the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign and inform the people in Russia of what is really happening.

Ukrainian face swap app sends instant alerts to 2 million Russian users Kyiv-based face swap app Reface has launched a global media campaign to spread news, share images of the devastation in Ukrainian cities and encourage its users to stand up. with Ukraine. A team of France 24 observers spoke to Dima Schwitz, the company’s CEO.

When Russia invaded Ukraine for the first time, we sent a push notification to our users with the message: “Russia invaded Ukraine”. Users who opened the app were then given more details about the situation on the ground, including photos and videos.

A push notification shared with Reface users when Russia invaded Ukraine (left) and an image on the app (left). © Reface Currently, nine million notifications have been sent worldwide, and two million notifications have been delivered to users in Russia. We’ve also moved up to number seven on the US App Store.

Our app was previously used to take users’ faces and place them on the bodies of celebrities. Since the Russian invasion, we’ve been encouraging everyone to switch themselves for President Zelensky.

All new videos created by the app have a watermark that includes the Ukrainian flag and the hashtag #StandWithUkraine.

Zelensky’s photo on the Reface app © Reface

Example of the #StandwithUkraine watermark on the Reface © Reface . app

“Food is good, but the war in Ukraine is not.” On Monday, February 28, the hacking group “Anonymous” incited people to leave fake reviews of Russian companies and restaurants in Google Maps to inform citizens about the conflict in Ukraine. The group tweeted: “Go to Google Maps. Go to Russia. Find a restaurant or business and write a review. When you write the review, explain what is happening in Ukraine.”

The tweet quickly gained traction. Comments across Russia are filled with news of the conflict in Ukraine. For example, one review of a restaurant in Moscow called Romantic says “5800 Russian soldiers died today, 4500 yesterday. Stop your aggression, don’t let your children suffer, if you go to war you won’t come back.” Another review of the same place says: “The food is great, but your commander is killing innocents in Ukraine!!! Stop this war.”

A screenshot of Google Maps showing restaurants in Moscow. © Google Maps

Google Maps allows users to upload photos of places – usually as part of a place review – but users also use this feature to transfer photos from Ukraine to Russia.

People are using Google Maps to fight the Russian government’s propaganda machine.

Reviews of restaurants throughout Russia are filled with explanations of what is really happening in Ukraine.

– Laurie Hayes (@laurieb2b) March 1, 2022

One of the frequently posted images to these sites is a screenshot of a phone purportedly belonging to a Russian soldier, showing a clear text conversation with his mother (see below).

Since then, Google Maps has disabled comments in Russia and Ukraine after it was used as a space to protest the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Due to the recent increase in contributed content to Google Maps related to the war in Ukraine, we have put in place additional protections to monitor and prevent content that violates our Maps policies, including temporarily blocking new reviews, photos, and videos in the region,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

Putin is the head of the ad: Russian electric chargers hacked to show support for Ukraine Caption: Car charging station on the M11 motorway in Russia

In a Facebook post, the Russian energy company, Rossetti, claimed that the Ukrainian company that supplied some parts had hacked shipping points it still had access to.

This effort is part of a wave of cyber campaigns targeting Russia. The international hacking group “Anonymous” has claimed responsibility for several cyber attacks, including on the Russian state broadcaster RT and more than 300 Russian websites.

The moves came after Anonymous declared itself in a “cyberwar campaign against Putin and his allies”.

“We should not underestimate the power of Putin’s information war.” Could campaigns like this have a tangible effect? asked a team of France 24 observers Valentina Shapovalova, a specialist in Russian media and propaganda at the University of Copenhagen.

I think it is still too early to tell how effective these measures will be. But it is still incredibly interesting to see how many ordinary citizens are participating in the upward counter-propaganda measures and to see how creative they are.

But we shouldn’t underestimate the power of Putin’s information warfare, he’s been stifling the information space for decades, and there’s now little room for anything else on citizens’ minds. The same narratives have been repeated in Russian media for years, and Putin has been equipping Russians with his propaganda efforts. And when you tell the same story over and over, people start to believe it’s true. It’s so deeply rooted that reviews on Google Maps may not have the effect they should.

Another very important strategy used by the Kremlin is to create confusion and mist, broadcasting so many stories and so many contradictory images and news that people are confused and don’t know what the truth is anymore.

Some of the major narratives that the government has been feeding to the Russians include the narrative that the Ukrainian government is a Nazi government set up by the West, that the Russian-speaking people of Ukraine have been oppressed since 2014 and that the Ukrainian government has been practicing genocide. .

More than a million people have already fled Ukraine and hundreds of civilians are believed to have been killed as a result of the war.

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