The digital battle between Russia and Ukraine – POLITICO

Darren Loucaides is a writer who specializes in the politics of technology.

Western experts can flock to Twitter and Facebook for the latest news; but one site that is really important in Russia’s war against Ukraine is Telegram.

Social media and messaging platforms have played a central role in the conflict from the outset, both as a means of state propaganda and disinformation and as an invaluable source of news for the Ukrainian people and Russian normal. That means there’s a lot going around for a company and application that isn’t well understood in the West. And, as the company’s founder Pavel Durov demonstrated when he considered blocking Telegram in both countries last week, many also depend on one person’s decision.

On February 28, the Russian-born businessman revealed that he was thinking about restricting his platform to Ukraine and Russia. Posting on his public Russian-language channel, which has 650,000 subscribers, he writes of his concern that Telegram is “increasingly becoming a source of unverified information”. He urged users from Russia and Ukraine to be suspicious of any information they see on the platform, and noted that he does not want Telegram to be used to exacerbate conflicts or “incite ethnic hatred. ”

The important statement is made at the end: “In the event of an escalation of the situation, we will consider the possibility of partially or completely restricting the operation of Telegram channels in the countries concerned for the duration of the period. occur conflicts”.

Durov’s words quickly attracted a huge amount of negative comments and “dislikes” on his channel – a space where likes from adoring fans often outweigh any negatives – with some channels in Ukraine criticize “censorship”. More than half an hour later, Durov stepped back. But the damage was done. The original post was viewed 6 million times in the span of one day, garnering more than 50,000 dislikes.

As the invasion unfolded, Twitter, Facebook and traditional news sites attempted to rein in Russian state media and disinformation. But on Telegram, which boasts a global user base of at least 500 million and is still what most people in Ukraine and Russia consider, misinformation continues to spread freely – with Durov’s admission of the company’s inability to prevent it. .

Many pro-Kremlin channels, posing as open-source intelligence, have added the letter “Z” to their names – the same marking is seen on some Russian military vehicles – and misinformation from Channels linked to the Kremlin are being blocked shared on other platforms and is popular all over the world. And although Telegram has now joined other platforms in banning Russia Today’s channels in Europe, subject to European Union sanctions, it has not done so in Russia or Ukraine, two important territory in this war.

Meanwhile, when Russia has switched to block social media platforms and Western mediaDeputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko took action to “protect” the Russian network, with a particularly extensive directive: On March 6, the official Russian government Telegram channel posted that “Government agencies should create accounts in Telegram and VKontakte,” the Russian social network run by Durov from 2006 to 2014.

Durov himself is a mysterious 37-year-old exile who hasn’t given an interview in years. But despite self-portrait As a semi-dissident who fled his homeland under pressure from the authorities, his relationship with the Kremlin remains rather ambiguous. In 2012, when Durov was still CEO of VKontakte, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published an exchange allegedly between him and Vladislav Surkov, deputy chief of staff to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the time. , which seems to imply that the company is passing the requested information by the user. of the authorities. Durov denied the claims, but later admitted him met Surkov several times.

As for Telegram, the company’s small team of special engineers overcame an attempt by Russian telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor to block the app in 2018. But the two sides seem to have understood after the ban was approved. lifted in 2020. During Russia’s 2021 parliamentary elections. Telegram has banned campaign content and channels, including those promoted by the country’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Durov later blame the move about Google and Apple’s alleged compliance with the Kremlin, companies that Telegram depends on to host in their app stores.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the conflict, the Ukrainian people continue to depend on Telegram as their primary source of information. In a follow-up post on his English Telegram channel, Durov guarantee to Ukrainian users that their data is safe, while also falsely hinting that he was previously fired by VKontakte for refusing to hand over the data of Ukrainian users during the 2014 protests. with Telegram – get more 70 percent of people in the country – could prove risky. Telegram has been aggressively marketed as an encrypted and privacy-focused app since its inception in 2013, with outlets repeatedly falsely describing it as an “encrypted messaging app.” . But aside from the fact that it’s a social network like a messaging app, most chats are stored through cloud-based servers, and experts question how secure they are. it.

Telegram “is by default a cloud database with a clear text copy of every message people have ever sent/recvd,” warned Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike in a statement. recent tweets. And although Telegram’s spokesperson has since scorned these claims, former Telegram employee Anton Rozenberg, who is based in Russia, echoed Marlinspike’s concerns. “We cannot rule out the possibility that Ukrainians (as well as other users) use Telegram for its convenience, mistakenly thinking it is trustworthy and secure, when their data can be accessed. by Telegram staff and transferred to a third party,” he told me. Other former employees also voice concerns about Telegram’s ability to read user messages.

More scrutiny is needed for both Durov and his background as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to escalate. Attempts by Western governments and tech companies to purge the internet of propaganda will only be symbolic as long as Telegram remains the real digital front line between Russia and Ukraine. The digital battle between Russia and Ukraine - POLITICO

Fry Electronics Team

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