New research suggests that Russia is blocking hundreds of small websites, including a pet grooming site, a short horror story blog and a tattoo parlor’s website. This strategy is part of the Kremlin’s efforts to suppress reports of atrocities committed during its cruel invasion of Ukraine. In particular, Moscow seems to focus on any messaging that contradicts Putin’s line that his invasion of Ukraine is just a “special military operation.”
Data collected by digital rights and privacy group Top10VPN and shared with Insider showed hundreds of smaller websites being blocked by Russian propagandists.
The group discovered that many of these niche sites blocked by the Russian state contained the same section of Russian-language text trying to educate readers about the war in Ukraine.
Top10VPN reports that about 300 sites have the same war text.
All of these sites have been blocked by Russia, according to a publicly available list of blocked websites from Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office.
The text begins: “Russia attacked Ukraine! We Ukrainians hope you already know.
“For the sake of your children and any hope for light at the end of this hell, please finish reading our letter.”
The text directly contradicts Putin’s claim that Russia is “denazifying” Ukraine,” as well as other Kremlin propaganda messages.
Top10VPN researcher Samuel Woodhams told Insider, “While it is unclear who is responsible for spreading this message, it is evident that efforts are being made to reach Russian citizens and circumvent [Russia’s] vast apparatus of censorship.
“While these obscure websites are unlikely to have a huge reach, the numbers are strong and with so many domains affected it is likely that some will have escaped the Russian censorship apparatus.”
Sites found with this text included the Pet Grooming Site, the Horror Story Blog, and the Tattoo Parlor Site.
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Mr Woodhams added that all sites even hinting at the invasion of Ukraine are blocked.
He said: “Sports websites, for example, are often blocked for interviewing a footballer talking about the conflict.”
Russia has already blocked huge mainstream websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Top10VPN reports that 960 news domains have been blocked since the war began.
There has been an increase in demand in Russia for virtual private networks (VPNs), which can allow users to access sites blocked in their country.
The Ukrainians also hijacked Russian propaganda in various ways.
In one case, they posted Google reviews of restaurants and places with information about the invasion, before they were deactivated by Google.
In another, people around the world were encouraged to use Tinder’s passport feature to correspond with Russian citizens and then share information with them.