Like so many others globally, I check the news and social media feeds often to see what is happening in Ukraine. At the same time, I also want to know what is happening inside of Russia. As the world starts cutting Russia off financially and as more and more businesses pull out, what are the people being told? Why do they think this is happening? What are they finding out for themselves?
And how? Russian government has cut off the BBC, Facebook and Twitter, while simulaneously threatening anyone who reports what they deem as “fake news” (that is, anything that contradicts the government’s stories) and the rest of the world deems as truth, that is, factual coverage.
In one story about people losing their parents to Russian propaganda, repercussions of manipulated media become real; “semi-independent media outlets, the Echo of Moscow radio station and the TV Rain television channel shut down, Facebook and Twitter was officially banned, while those media outlets that decided to keep operating, such as Novaya Gazeta, agreed to take down coverage of Russia’s war on the Kremlin’s request.” And so you have the situation described in this article: parents of Russians living in Ukraine do not believe what their own children are telling them if it contradicts the news they watch and the lies they have bought into.
It boggles the mind to think about this in the context of a country full of hackers – how many Russians are using VPNs to find out what is really going on?
How many more citizens simply accept whatever the Russian government tells them as true?
With so much Western media pulling out due to new press restrictions, it also becomes more difficult to get comprehensive stories of what is going on inside of Russia. For both political strategists and academics, this vacuum will be important to understand. How does informaton and disinformation flow in a world where conduits are controlled? How do people in a cyber-connected world react over time if they cease to have access to outside information?
There are glimpses of how some communication channels are being opened. In “Ukraine invites Russian mothers to collect their sons captured on the battlefield,” it is reported how Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense shared phone numbers and an email address so that Russian mothers can find out if their sons are among those hurt, captured or dead. Those that call can find out real news. Ukraine also created a website with videos of these sons, some of whom register their complaint that the Russian army did not tell them what they would be doing, that they would be invading and attacking Ukraine. Needless to say, the Russian government blocked that website.
One captured soldier’s speech describes to the full extent that Russians are being misled. This is worth watching. But how many Russians are able to hear his words?
At the same time, the entire staff of one Russian television channel resigned while on air. With a resounding, “No to war,” the staff’s mass resignation followed Russian’s cancelling the channel’s operations because of how it was covering the war. Ballsy move in a country where more than 4300 Russians have so far been arrested for protesting the war.
But here is where it gets really interesting.Kyiv Independent reports that Hackers Anonymous hacked Russian television stations and streaming services with footage of war, so citizens can see. Anonymous also tweeted messages indicating Russian citizens’ opposition to war and calling for Russians to oppose what they term a genocide in Ukraine. How much they are believed is yet to be seen. And I cannot wait to see.
As a grad student in communications, I wonder what new behavioral communications theories might emerge from all this upheaval in the way media is controlled – or not controlled, especially during time of war and under an authoritarian regime.
And as a member of planet Earth, I wonder how ordinary Russians will be taught about their country’s invasion in future history books.
Do stay tuned.
Note: This link to a powerful clip from a Russian POW was added after the blog was first published.