As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine unfolds, much of the world continues to watch via social media. In response, Russia has waged its own forces against major social media platforms and services in an attempt to control the narrative coming out of Ukraine.
In what we imagine is much to Russia’s chagrin, Ukrainian and Russian civilians seem to have found their ways around such measures, and the major platforms have taken firm stances against Russian state-sponsored messages. Below, here are all the ways the internet is standing up to Russia’s attacks.
Many big platforms have restricted Russia’s access in some way
Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have proven invaluable in helping spread awareness of what is actually happening in Ukraine. As such, Russia has tried to control them, with little success.
On Feb. 25, Russia’s communications regulator accused Facebook of censoring the accounts of four state-sponsored media sites. In response, the country moved to limit access to Facebook for its civilians.
Meta’s vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg said in a statement that Russia had asked the company to stop fact-checking and labeling posts from those four accounts, and when Meta refused, Russia chose to restrict access. Meta seems to remain staunch in its efforts to curb misinformation on its sites, and has also chosen to block Russian state media from running any ads on Facebook or to monetize in any way, according to NPR.
Google has also paused Russia’s ability to profit off of content across its services. YouTube is blocking state-sponsored ads from Russian channels on its platform, and is limiting video recommendations to Russian channels while blocking them entirely in Ukraine, at the request of the Ukrainian government.
On Sunday, Alphabet, Inc. (which owns Google and YouTube) also banned downloads of the RT app in Ukrainian territory at the request of the Ukrainian government, according to Reuters. New users in Ukraine will not be able to download the Russian-owned media outlet’s app, while existing users may still be able to access it but won’t receive any new updates.
On Twitter, state-controlled ads have been banned since 2019, though state-sponsored media organizations like RT have accounts there. But in response to the conflict, the platform is temporarily pausing all ads in Ukraine and Russia regardless of the source, stating that it wants to “ensure critical public safety information is elevated and ads don’t detract from it.”
Twitter is also being restricted in Russia according to usage metrics from internet watchdog group NetBlocks. When Mashable asked Twitter about the block, a spokesperson pointed us to a tweet stating the company’s belief in “free and open access to the internet,” but otherwise had no comment.
All three major platforms continue to monitor the situation in Eastern Europe and seemingly plan on taking action against any rule-violating activities. Twitter has also taken additional actions to increase security and protect the accounts of high profile journalists, activists, and government officials. According to NPR, Meta has created a special operations center to keep tabs on Russia’s activity on its platforms, and YouTube has already “taken down hundreds of channels and thousands of videos in recent days for violating its policies, including rules against ‘coordinated deceptive practices.'”
Online fundraising for Ukraine is active, and thriving via crypto
On Feb. 26, Ukraine’s official Twitter account said it would be accepting donations in the form of cryptocurrency. To date, more than $9.9 million has been raised in crypto for Ukraine, according to The Verge.
The country is officially accepting donations via Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Tether, while decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) have formed and can accept other forms of crypto donations as well. According to The Verge, Tether is supposed to pegged to the US dollar, but has been in such high demand that it is now trading above the dollar at $1.10.
People in Ukraine have also reported that their Ukrainian credit cards have stopped working, and that crypto has become the most feasible fallback.
Major crypto community players have expressed their support for Ukraine, including Russian-born creator of Ethereum Vitalik Buterin tweeting that the “invasion was a crime against Ukrainian and Russian people.” Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of the Russian performance art group Pussy Riot, also created UkraineDAO to raise funds, and a collaboration of NFT and web3 artists created RELI3F to act as another hub for crypto donations to Ukraine.
In contrast, Russia has pushed for a total ban on cryptocurrency and continues a “head-in-the-clouds” approach to talking about the conflict on its own official Twitter account. Given that, it’s unlikely Russia will be soliciting a similar amount of donations via crypto any time soon.
Ukrainian and Russian civilians have found ways to communicate
Telegram is the most popular messenger in Ukraine, and while many believe it to be protected, rival app Signal’s founder Moxie Marlinspike tweeted a thread explaining Telegram’s cloud-based nature, detailing the possible threat from Russia.
While this doesn’t guarantee a mass Ukrainian exodus from the potentially jeopardized app, the thread brings awareness to alternatives, as well as a feature within Telegram called “secret messages,” that would provide more privacy and security for those who remain on the service.
Internet infrastructure company Cloudflare also saw a massive spike in Signal usage just after midnight on Feb. 24, approximately the same time that the Russian invasion began. Signal’s messaging services promise end to end encryption, and is generally agreed upon by cybersecurity experts to be the most secure private messaging app.
To prepare for potential internet outages, many are also working to get around online censorship in Ukraine or Russia.
Yev Muchnik, a Ukraine-born lawyer who’s lived in the U.S. since 1988, told The Verge that he has been working with developers from PieFi and Ukraine United DAO to combat any attacks on internet access. Their goal is to “create peer-to-peer mesh networks to preserve internet connectivity, even if centralized internet service providers go down.” Privacy-preserving internet browsing service Tor also tweeted out an extensive thread detailing how private citizens can protect themselves against surveillance and censorship.
On-the-ground info continues to spread online, albeit with misinfo concerns
As people across the internet continue to seek out information, other social platforms like TikTok have offered a view of what is actually happening on the ground in Ukraine. Even before the official invasion in the early hours of Feb. 24, TikTok videos had been showing Russian military weapons and vehicles en route to Ukrainian borders, alerting military analysts and civilians alike to the upcoming threat.
As the invasion began in earnest, more social posts have cropped up purporting to highlight the true day-to-day life in Ukraine and Russia right now.
Independent Russian journalist Ilya Varlamov has used Instagram to document photos and videos of his account of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Russian TikTokker Niki Proshin posted a video showing an anti-war protest in Russia. According to The Guardian, Ukrainian influencer Anna Prytula’s Instagram (which has now been made private) showed footage of missiles attacking in Ukraine.
But even as Ukrainian and Russian residents are publishing real-time, truthful videos, fake war pages and accounts on platforms like Instagram and TikTok have also taken the opportunity to reel in views and followers.
Instagram has taken action by removing scam war pages for violating its community guidelines regarding inauthentic behavior, while TikTok told Business Insider, “We continue to closely monitor the situation, with increased resources to respond to emerging trends and remove violative content, including harmful misinformation and promotion of violence. We also partner with independent fact-checking organizations to further aid our efforts to help TikTok remain a safe and authentic place.”
While the platforms are presumably working to take down blatant misinformation, journalists like those at CNN are also actively fact-checking viral videos in order to ensure that any first person accounts from Russian military action is accurate.