You are here

Attack on threatens Belarus' information security

Getting caught in the net of Russian propaganda is easier than it seems / CNN​

Every tenth visitor of the Russian propaganda website Riafan is a Belarusian (data from Similarweb). That's about 3.5 million visits from Belarus per month. What can people read on this site? These are the stories like "The West has made Belarus before to choose between the fate of Ukraine and merging with Russia" and "Markau said that if Lukashenka is killed, NATO will invade Belorussia."

Even if you click on the news about Eurovision or Alla Pugacheva, you might end up with a news story along the lines of "Russia in a ring of enemies."

One of the largest recommendation networks is Lentainform. According to data for April, more than 55 million users "went through" it, of whom 4.5% are from Belarus. It doesn't seem much, but it is almost 2.5 million visits, with a high share of probability "donated" to Russian propaganda resources.

Since this network has users from Belarus, it means that some Belarusian sites work with them. Among them are, for example, the site of the newspaper Belarus Today or STV TV channel. State media, in general, like to attract visitors in every possible way. But, as it turns out, they are not the only ones.

"One can't say that these recommendation sites only get visitors from the websites of state-run media," says researcher of the Belarusian Internet audience, Mikhail Darashevich in a commentary to Euroradio. Many independent websites have recommendation networks.

Indeed: take Lentainform for example (less frequently 24SMI and SMI2). It is connected to a number of independent media outlets. Their audience may not only get referred to materials about Alla Pugacheva losing weight, but also about to those about the "NATO invasion." 

According to Darashevich, the major part of the Belarusian audience visiting Russian recommendation networks is older people.

"We have an audience that is exposed to sites of dubious quality, which can contain everything from factoids [a false claim that is presented as fact. - Euroradio] to outright disinformation. The older age group, which is a big consumer of news, is a vulnerable group because they visit these sites. Because they read everything in a row, so to speak, they can read unreliable information.

This is what you can read by clicking on the exchange blocks

One of the things worth mentioning here is Yandex.Zen. Media work with it in different ways: some simply end in its engine results and get readers from the service. Others use its "exchange blocks" and can "push" readers in the "right" direction. The second option is also used by the Belarusian media and can serve to spread propaganda.

Where will TUT.BY users go?

The issue of information security in Belarus - already an urgent one - became most acute after the purge of the editorial board. Euroradio spoke to Mikhail Darashevich before this situation, and even then he pointed out the problem. Now, obviously, a huge audience of the portal is in search of a new source of information. And the recommendation networks are right there.

"Belarusian Internet users can freely visit not only Belarusian sites with reliable information but also sites with information of dubious quality. Recommendation services are not blocked in the same way as independent publications - the Ministry of Information does not see any reason to do so. But from the point of view of information security, it is not good," warns Darashevich. "Any cut-off of the audience from Belarusian sources of verified information opens up space for Russian news sources, to which the recommendation networks lead. I see this as a serious threat to Belarus' information security."

The memory of the authorities is surprisingly short

Belarusian officials do not seem to see any danger in this movement of audience. They are not confused by the fact that on Russian propaganda resources, materials "in defense" of Lukashenka exist side by side with texts stating that Belarus as a state should not exist, and that only ardent nationalists rule here. It is unlikely that the authorities have forgotten how tough the Russian media can be on Belarus and its officials - take the "Godfather Batska" films, for example. But apparently, the prospect of such materials now seems not as dangerous as objective news. 


To follow important news, subscribe to the Euroradio channel on Twitter.

Every day we publish videos about life in Belarus on our YouTube channel. You can subscribe here.