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How social feeds react to Belarusian state propaganda

Propagandists keep mastering social networks / collage by Ulad Rubanau, Euroradio

Since the beginning of the political crisis, Belarusian propagandists have become quite proficient in their work. They create Telegram channels and accounts by the dozens, actively try to promote themselves on social networks, up to putting up "repentant" videos for advertising. But the Belarusians are resisting them, albeit with varying degrees of success.

We have recalled how major platforms treat fake accounts and propaganda.

YouTube: won't think twice until kicked

At the end of 2021, the great news came. Google blocked YouTube ads with "repentant" videos and limited the accounts where they were launched. Truth be told, it didn't really help much.

It took a letter from Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya with examples of specific violations for the corporation to respond.

At the same time, there are other channels that post similar videos. Just as there are other accounts that can put them on ads. In fact, it's an octopus, and it's impossible to capture every link. Although YouTube could in fact do that. Or at least respond to user complaints.

One of the activist groups, Cyber-Partisan, is engaged in the fight against propaganda: in their channel, they regularly post "tasks". Anyone can complain about interrogation or hate speech videos they find. And what do you think? All of the YouTube videos that the Belarusians complained about remained. Including the ones where they directly threatened their opponents or Raman Pratasevich's "interview" with the ONT TV channel. Even though it was filmed directly at the detention center.

Yes, YouTube deleted several accounts back in the fall, including those of the Investigative Committee and the police department, but that was only because of U.S. sanctions. Naftan and other companies' accounts were deleted for the same reason.

Facebook/Instagram: few and far between

The Meta Corporation (Facebook and Instagram) does not comply even with the U.S. sanctions: for example, the accounts of MIA, IC, NOC and Dana Holdings are not blocked. Even Belarusians' appeals to social network administrations did not help as all pages are accessible and updated without any problems.

Nor did the administration respond to complaints about fakes and hate propaganda by state media and individual activists.

In rare cases, accounts were blocked, but nothing prevented their creators from making new ones, and in theory, the administration could have tracked this down.

There are several positive examples though. Deputy Maryia Vasilevich's Instagram accounts were blocked (she now has a new one), the Facebook page of Lyudmila Hladkaya of Belarus Today was frozen, and the group of pro-government activists from Budzma was deleted. Occasionally, smaller pages or bots have been blocked as well. But it only happened after campaigns involving mass complaints.

Twitter: almost never

Twitter in principle uses blocking only in extreme cases, both in Belarus and around the world. But there have been small "victories" here, too. Of late: the "Yellow Leaks (Plums)" page was blocked for inciting hatred. In the summer of 2021, we managed to freeze the account of Raman Pratasevich, which he launched in prison.

But in general, Twitter responds to complaints in a picky manner, with most complaints being rejected. For a page to be deleted, the rules must be seriously violated like posting photos or videos of people with intimate content.

The accounts of organizations subject to U.S. sanctions are not deleted by the social network, either.

Tiktok: blocks bots and open hate speech

If you look at Cyber-Partisan's "wins" statistics, TikTok gets there quite often. As a rule, accounts with blatant hate speech or threats are blocked, as well as bots.

However, large accounts, such as those of the "Yellow Leaks (Plums)", are not blocked by TikTok. There are also enough activists or state media content there. The administration of the social network does not respond to fakes.

Telegram: while it lasts

Telegram administration ignores both the U.S. sanctions and numerous complaints from Belarusians. There, in contrast to other social feeds, they do not even bother to send answers after reviewing complaints.

Yes, back in 2020, a pornographic account parodying Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's channel was blocked. But it wasn't about politics, it was about porn. In 2022, Telegram was forced to demand that certain channels remove publications aimed at persecuting LGBT people and outing. But it required a claim from Apple.

Telegram does not respond at all to "repentant videos," posts with open threats, and calls for reprisals and fakes.

VK and Odnoklassniki: zero reaction

Russia's VK and Odnoklassniki do not respond to user complaints. Pro-government accounts and groups are flourishing here. "Partisans have reported rare victories, and even then it was about deleting the most odious publications. Neither leaks of personal information, nor hate speech, nor threats and harassment bother the administration of social networks.

Euroradio has sent a request for comment to Partisans fighting propaganda. When they respond, we'll be sure to share it with you.

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