Mapping Growth of the Russian Domestic Propaganda Apparatus on Telegram
Volume 2022, Issue 1 (2022), pp. 227–231
Pub. online: 31 October 2022 Type: Article Open Access
31 October 2022
31 October 2022
As a part of Western sanctions against Russia, big social media companies i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, have been limiting their functionalities available to Russians and suspending and limiting reach of Russian influencers. Many Russian propagandist, aware of the risk of becoming deplatformed, were already looking for social media platforms with less moderation before the February 24th. With many Russians using Telegram as their preferred communicator, Telegram became the natural choice. Russian government, by blocking access to Western social media platforms by Russian users and by directing state influencers to migrate their domestic audiences to Telegram, has accelerated this trend. Despite many advantages, Telegram is limited in ease with which new content and channels can be discovered. Telegram search for channels is based on exact string matching and Telegram has no content search or content recommendation functionality built into it. Telegram’s advertising mechanism is still in its infancy. To enable quick growth of the key state propaganda channels, Russians employed several tactics. They have selected a few existing influencers, such as Vladimir Soloviev, to substitute for the absent search and recommendation engine. Soloviev’s Telegram channels has been heavily advertised on legacy media, starting with TV stations carrying his programs, to serve as an onramp to Telegram. Soloviev has regularly featured reviews of other smaller channels, endorsing, and promoting their pro-conflict content, becoming the missing recommendation engine for Russians. All the above resulted in creating a vast, Telegram-based apparatus of domestic state propaganda. In this paper, we trace the growth of Russian pro-conflict Telegram communities and quantify the impact of centralized endorsement by state influencers on the growth of other smaller, specialized Telegram channels.