How russian propaganda circumvents the sanctions


During preparation the publication “Russian YouTube Channels with the Highest Number of Belarusian Subscribers” was discovered that out of the 160 analyzed channels, it was found that over 20 of them are channels with blocked and removed content. The majority of these channels are associated with socio-political content.

In March 2022, following the start of the direct invasion of Ukraine by the armed forces of the Russian Federation, YouTube, the world’s most popular video platform owned by Google (Alphabet Inc), made the decision to block access to channels affiliated with Russian state-funded media worldwide. This decision was based on a policy prohibiting content that denies, minimizes, or trivializes well-documented events related to violence. YouTube has taken additional measures against Russian channels, accusing them of spreading false narratives about the Ukrainian leadership and the deaths of civilians during the war. Russian state media refers to the restrictions imposed on them by distributors, including app stores and other social media services, as unjustified censorship.

If we analyze the rapid growth of content and views on Belarusian state-controlled YouTube channels, it can be seen that this growth has occurred through content targeted at the Russian internet audience.

As an example, let’s consider the YouTube channel – “СБ ТВ / Официальный канал Издательского дома «Беларусь Сегодня»” (SB TV / Official Channel of the Publishing House “Belarus Today”). According to regular monitoring of Belarusian YouTube channels, this channel ranked first in terms of views in April 2023. From socio-demographic characteristics, it is known that 57.27% of the channel’s subscribers are from the Russian Federation.
The most viewed videos posted on this channel in the previous year are:

Over 2,200 videos were posted in one year, according to data obtained from social media monitoring platforms. Among the top 100 videos with the highest number of views, only one video has a duration of over one minute. Out of these videos, only 14 were found to have content related to Belarus.

It can be observed that when there is no pro-Russian content, the number of views is quite modest. In order to bypass information sanctions, not only Belarusian YouTube channels are used, but also, for example, Kyrgyz channels like “AKIpress news” the Official Channel of the AKIpress news agency in Kyrgyzstan.

Videos from the Moscow Victory Day Parade on May 9, 2023, gathered a huge number of views.

The distribution of subscribers of this channel by country shows that the majority are from the Russian Federation:

It can be assumed that the Russian propaganda system, which includes scientists and programmers, has developed ways to bypass YouTube’s recommendation algorithms.

As Sander van der Linden writes in his new book “Foolproof: Why Misinformation Infects Our Minds and How to Build Immunity”:

  • Algorithmic filtering of content, based on user behavior and recommendation systems, can act as a funnel and nudge people down the path of polarization and extremism.
  • Echo chambers and filter bubbles pose serious challenges to the dissemination and uptake of fact-checks and debunkings of misinformation.

In conclusion, Belarusian YouTube channels controlled by the Belarusian government continuously violate the sanctions regime imposed by the majority of democratic countries worldwide regarding content that spreads misinformation about the Russian Federation’s military invasion of Ukraine and propagates violence and cruelty towards the peaceful population of Ukraine.

Another conclusion is that based on the data from the monitoring of key Belarusian state media in social media for the first quarter of 2023, Instagram accounts of Belarusian state media are currently not involved in the information war conducted by the Russian Federation against Ukraine.

In contrast, YouTube and Facebook accounts are actively engaged in the information war, spreading disinformation and Russian narratives. It is worth noting that the content on Facebook lacks significant reader engagement. This can be explained by the decision made on March 4, 2022, to block access to Facebook (owned by Meta Platforms, Inc.) in the territory of the Russian Federation. The beginning of 2023 has shown that the Russian authorities are not giving up on the idea of blocking YouTube.

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Digital Skills Coalition Belarus
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