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The “politicization” of Russian influencers

Loading player In recent weeks, to control information on the war in Ukraine, the Russian government has tightened censorship on news sites that did not conform to the government's version of events and blocked access to several social networks. The measures have not only forced several Russian newspapers to close, on the orders of the state communications agency Roskomnadzor or in application of a recent law that defines “fake news” anything that is not approved by the government; they also forced many Russian bloggers and influencers, who worked and earned with social media and online platforms, to reorganize themselves so as not to lose their followers and limit economic damage.

Some have decided to leave the country and focus on an international audience, starting to create content in English. Many others are migrating en masse to alternative platforms approved by the government, which has a vested interest in controlling the circulation of online content and using influencers as a propaganda tool.

The blocks imposed by the Russian government on the most used and widespread social networks materialized especially in March. Earlier this month, Roskomnadzor first blocked Facebook and Twitter, and then also Instagram, in part responding to measures introduced by the platforms to limit Russian disinformation about the war in Ukraine. On March 21, a Russian court then declared Meta, the US company that controls Instagram and Facebook, illegal as guilty of “extremist activities”.

Other restrictions imposed by the platforms on Russian users had been added: also in March, for example, YouTube had suspended its monetization programs for many Russian users, that is the possibility of earning with their own content.

Among the influencers and content creators who in the face of these measures have decided to leave, told the magazine Nieman Lab, there is Greg Mustreader, a Russian blogger who used his channels (YouTube, Twitter) until the war began. , Instagram) above all to deal with cultural themes of various kinds. But with the start of the war, Mustreader had begun to criticize the government for his actions in Ukraine. At one point he had decided to leave, for fear of incurring government sanctions, and had fled to Istanbul, Turkey, where he started producing English content on TikTok too, soon reaching 100,000 followers.

However, many other influencers, bloggers and content creators have chosen to stay in Russia and move to the platforms approved by the Russian government.

The most used are VKontakte (VK), which is practically the Russian version of Facebook, RuTube, that of YouTube, or Yandex Zen, a kind of news aggregator similar to Flipboard which, unlike Flipboard, also allows you to post content. Many also continue to use Telegram, which the Russian government has not yet blocked. Rossgram has also recently existed, a kind of Russian copy of Instagram.

The data seem to confirm the existence of what Nieman Lab has called a “mass migration” to platforms approved by the Russian government. According to a survey conducted by Russian independent communications firm Twiga, in mid-March of around 500 Russian bloggers and online content creators, 69 percent said they intended to transfer followers and content to government-approved platforms, despite some risk. : for example the loss of part of its audience, the use of less advanced platforms than Western ones and the lack of monetization programs.

One consequence of this process is that several Russian influencers have progressively “politicized” by aligning themselves with government propaganda. News reports also showed that many of them were paid to support the Russian version of the facts about the war in Ukraine.

The spread of pro-government messages by Russian influencers, however, seems to continue also on traditional channels: in these days several newspapers have taken up the series of videos in which some well-known influencers tore up some Chanel bags live on their Instagram channel. probably bypassing the social block with the use of a private network (VPN), to protest against the suspension of sales of Chanel products in Russia. Influencers, in particular, protested against the choice of some Chanel stores not to sell their products to people who were planning to bring them to Russia.

The Russian TV presenter Marina Ermoshkina had started the video series in a video in which she accused Chanel of “discrimination” and “russophobia”.

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A post shared by Marina Ermoshkina (@amazing_marina)

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