Telegram Occupation

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Ukraine

Publishing organisation: TEXTY.org.ua

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-10-29

Language: Ukrainian, English

Authors: Yevhenia Drozdova, Yuliia Dukach, Nadia Kelm


**Yevheniia Drozdova**: data journalist at Texty.org.ua, Kyiv, Ukraine. Works with R, Python, JavaScript, specializes in interactive graphs and maps.
**Nadja Kelm**: designer at Texty.org.ua, Kyiv, Ukraine. Author of the course about design in data visualization, School of Infographic, winner of the national competition The best book design 2019 (the Arsenal Book Festival).
**Yuliia Dukach**: data journalist in Texty.org.ua, Kyiv, Ukraine. PhD in sociology, lecturer in the Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (department of sociology and law).

Project description:

Project demonstrates how Russia wanted to breed a media monster, but ended up with a paper tiger in Ukraine. Telegram Messanger is widly used as a source of news for many Ukrainians. At the beginning of March 2022, right after the full-scale invasion, Russian information troops targeted regional centers of Ukraine by creating dedicated Telegram channels for each township or community. We managed to identify 120 such channels and analyzed the dynamics of content publishing, imposing it on the timeline of the development of the war. Text analysis helps us to set content originality index and identify networks of channels.

Impact reached:

In November, we looked into Russia’s use of Telegram channels in various regions of Ukraine and why their attempt to push propaganda through these channels has failed.

Since the onset of the full-scale invasion, Russian info warfare forces targeted various regions of Ukraine through local Telegram channels. This strategy was confirmed by the captured Russian lieutenant colonel. He named 10 such channels. We managed to identify 120.

68 of these channels were created during the first 2 weeks of the war. Considering identical visual cues & the synchronization of updates, we can safely assume that at least half of the 120 channels have been created as part of a coordinated effort of the Russian information warfare troops. The channels were managed from the same location.

As the Russian army retreated from Kyiv and slowed down its advance, new Telegram channels only appeared in the South of Ukraine. Later on, some of the channels got abandoned altogether.

Our investigation results are the another proof of aggressive plans of Russia with the aim to occupy Ukraine, despite they do state publicly. Project havs lots of retweets and shares in other social media. First of all it aroused interest among the media experts, disinfo researches and local activists.

Russia has been building a network of (pro-)Russian information propagandist outlets, which pretend to be operated from Ukraine, for many years. Unlike the official mouthpieces of the Kremlin, these outlets are primarily tasked with showing support of Russia and expressing “domestic” criticism of the Ukrainian government.

Eventually, Telegram became one of the most prominent instruments of Russian propaganda, and today this messenger is considered the most popular social network in Ukraine and one of the most dangerous sources of Russian influence.

Techniques/technologies used:

The data was downloaded from Telegram with a scraper. All channels are open, so we could take any scraper.
First 10 such channels were named by the captured Russian lieutenant colonel, chief of information countermeasures and operational camouflage division of the 58th Army of Southern Military District of the Russian Armed Forces, during the interrogation. Then with snow-ball method we managed to find 120 channels.
Then everything analysed in Python.

Network visualisation was built in Gephi with further processing in visual editor.

Context about the project:

The idea of the project was born as a followup of regular monitorings of telegram-channels in occupied territorries, which TEXTY were preparing for the Ukrainian Center for stragic communicationa and countering disinformation (as a part of the Ministry). Our cooperation actively strenghened after Russian invasion on February 24. TEXTY provided monitoring and analysis of media-sphere on different platforms from mainstream media, including Russin-based and state-owned, to social media and messangers. The Center used results of our monitoring for their communication activities with a focus on countering disinformation and also for decision-making process within governmental institutions.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

The strategy of creating local sources of propaganda was considered to be quite effective — at least hypothetically. The idea was that local resources would have more chances winning readers’ trust than central channels of Russian propaganda by offering a mix of propagandist narratives and local news which may be of some use for the readers.

We noticed that reposts are vitally important for most channels. On average, every third post which appears in occupation channels is a repost. This fact helped us to find networks and furthermore tomake sure that such inforamtion invasion is a part of a well-planned Russia’s full-scale intervention into Ukraine.

Project links: