How Ads Are Used To Tell Russians The Truth About Putin’s War

  • A Ukrainian woman uses porn and gambling sites to tell the truth about Putin’s war in Ukraine.
  • Anatasiya Baydachenko, CEO of Ukraine’s IAB, says block rates on these sites are lower.
  • Index about censorship chief editor says you have to “throw it all” to fight misinformation.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced millions of people to take up arms against Vladimir Putin’s forces, but others are fighting in less conventional ways. Anastasiya Baydachenko is one of them.

The director of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Ukraine uses still image and video ads on porn and gambling sites to tell Russians and Belarusians the truth about the conflict in Ukraine.

Baydachenko told Insider that advertising on these sites made sense because it was easy, affordable and increases the chances of Russians and Belarusians seeing them.

Despite the lack of a tracking system to assess effectiveness, she believed that about 80% reached Russians and Belarusians. “Adult and gambling sites have Russian audiences and advertising platforms can sell us this traffic.”

While the range wasn’t too wide, “it’s still a tool” that shouldn’t be dismissed, Baydachenko said. “We strongly believe that we should try to deliver truthful messages to those who have been under state propaganda for decades.”

Insider reported shortly after the invasion that Putin’s disinformation was so effective that many Ukrainians were unable to convince their own families in Russia that they were under attack.

Low ad-blocking rates are low on these websites, she said, compared to larger sites like YouTube that have teams of moderators. Its biggest challenge, however, is financing.

Baydachenko said using porn sites was a good way to reach Russians, but it didn’t exclude the much larger platforms from Meta and Google, even though their stricter policies made that more difficult.

Jemima Steinfeld, the editor-in-chief of Index about censorshipa nonprofit that campaigns for free speech said that if you want to fight censorship, you have to “turn everything upside down.”

However, she warned: “We also need to be aware that when advertisements about the war are seen, they do not always have the intended reception.

“If you’ve been given a one-sided story, the other side can just be dismissed as propaganda. It’s for this reason that those who put ads in Russia may select more stories that are harder to ignore — like inflation.”

“Certainly in the case of Facebook, it was seen as a threat big enough that Russia decided to block it,” Steinfeld said.

Indeed, Russia criticized Facebook for “restricting the official accounts of four Russian media outlets”. Roskomnadzor, the Russian technology and communications regulator, said the day after Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine.

Steinfeld added: “We have seen that social media can thwart free speech – algorithms can be blunt tools, blocking as much crucial information as misinformation. But we should not underestimate its role in terms of informing us about warfare and human rights violations.”

In May, Insider reported that Russian officials spent $8 million on VPNs that help them evade the country’s online censorship.

Baydachenko added: “There are no independent media and media traditionally termed opposition or alternative are at least partially – if not completely – run by the state. There is no news in the air, only recordings – that’s why we keep just a smile as we read about opportunistic TV news editor coming to air with a poster.”

Marina Ovsyannikova, editor at Russian state television on Channel One had interrupted the station’s main news program on March 14 with a sign that read, “Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here.”

Baydachenko concluded: “I am sure that Russia uses the same methods as the former KGB: blackmail, torture, psychological pressure and more to make journalists obedient.”

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