As in any country, the exact picture depends on the media you consume. For Russians with the desire and a bit of tech-savvy, unofficial information is still accessible. But those who follow the official news, as The Economist did on May 11th, see a world solely of the Kremlin’s making. Here is a day in the life of a follower of The Putin Show.

Russia's three-day blitz invasion of Ukraine has now been going on for fifty days. Lest I become trapped in some sort of Western-perspective-only media bubble, I have been making a conscious effort to also read pro-Russian takes on the situation. Frustratingly though, the only thing I feel I have learned from this is that listening to anything the pro-Russian side says is completely pointless.


From the horse's mouth

When the invasion began, I started following the Twitter accounts and web sites of various official institutions of the Russian state. I also started collecting a list of Twitter accounts whose tweets were often boosted by these Russian institutions. What I found surprised me.

First, let's consider official communication from the Russian regime.

Now, I am more familiar with statements from European, and especially Swedish, government institutions. These are usually pretty fact-based and dry, often even boring. Recent communication from Russian institutions is, well, different.

And by "different" I mean "completely bonkers".

Nostalgia, lies and conspiracy theories

Every single claim that I have observed from these official Russian sources has been either (a) a pretentious reference to a glorious past ("on this day in Russian history", etc.), (b) a crazy conspiracy theory ("the West has always tried to destroy Russia", "the CIA operates factories for chemical weapons in Ukraine", "the Ukrainian government wants to kill all Russian-speaking people in the country", etc.), or (c) an obvious lie ("the West has no freedom of expression", "Russia does have freedom of expression", "it was never Russia's intention to capture Kyiv", "Russia does not target civilians", etc.).

Category a, the sappy national-pride factoid, is, of course, fine. All countries do it. And Russia does have a lot of history worth remembering, some of which Russians certainly deserve to feel proud of. But a feelgood tidbit about the first Russian-made airplane or an anecdote from the life of Shostakovich isn't going to help me understand the beef Russia has with Ukraine, so let's set those aside for now.

Categories b and c were what surprised me. The claims made here are so divorced from observable reality that, surely, no one who has access to a news source other than Russian state television could possibly believe them, right?

Right?

This brings us to those other Twitter accounts I mentioned.

Angry kooks and sock puppets

These accounts, of which at least some claim to be based in the West, say all the same things as above, and worse, and where "Russia official" sounds aggressive and aggrieved, these accounts sound as though they're positively foaming at the mouth. Everything that has ever gone wrong in the history of the world is the fault of the West, and especially Nato, and especially the US. I also soon started noticing a pattern in the other things they talked about, for sometimes they mused on subjects not directly related to the war in Ukraine.

For twenty years or so, as a sort of weird hobby, I've been trying to find and follow as many conspiracy theory web sites as possible. You know, 9/11 was done by the US government/the Illuminati/aliens, covid vaccines/5G/fluorinated drinking water will turn us into zombies, "they" don't want you to know about homeopathy/the gold standard/aliens, that kind of thing. Over the course of these fifty days, the "often retweeted by Russia" group has started to look more and more like the "probably sleeps wearing a tinfoil hat" group, in terms of the topics they like to weigh in on.

It makes no sense

I'm giving up. Just like, it seems to me, the entire Russian state apparatus has given up on even trying to meaningfully argue their position, instead relying entirely on lies and not even caring that their lies often contradict each other. Not to mention the "Russia can do no wrong" kooks and sock puppets. I made an honest attempt to listen to their side, but nothing I heard made any sense, and the angry and hateful tone they always use is very off-putting and doesn't seem healthy.

I am not a Russophobe. I understand a little bit of Russian after a brief stint studying the language at the university. I love Russian food, I used to visit the Russian film festival here in Stockholm, and I have travelled the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok. But the current Russian regime is — how can I put this politely? — crazy. And henceforth I will assume that anything and everything they say is a lie.

For example, the mere fact that Russia claims that its cruiser Moskva's demise was due to an accident makes me pretty confident that it was not, so it was probably indeed sunk by Ukraine. Or possibly by the Illuminati or the aliens.

The end

In conclusion, I feel it's safe to say that anyone who wishes to actually understand the situation can safely ignore anything the Russian regime says. It contributes nothing.

Edit, Apr. 19: Fixed typo. Added sub-headings.

“In just one month, TikTok went from being considered a serious threat to Putin’s national support for the war to becoming another possible conduit for state propaganda,” said Giulia Giorgi, a researcher at Tracking Exposed, which has been studying the platform’s policies and actions in Russia since the invasion began in February. “Our findings show clearly how TikTok’s actions influenced that trajectory.”

Ukraina delar historiska rötter med Ryssland. Men landet har aldrig varit så mycket ukrainskt och så lite ryskt som 2022.

It's clear that the Kremlin's propagandists are trying to use the exact same playbook they used after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in the Donbas in 2014. Immediately after the incident it wants to obscure, the Russian government puts forth a series of "alternative" explanations that contradict even one another ("Nobody actually died"; "Ukrainians themselves killed the civilians"). The goal is simple: to sow doubt and portray the truth as just one of a number of possible explanations. Manipulating public opinion using this method is easier in Russia than in the West, because in Russia, the Kremlin controls all of the major media outlets.

Today, the most brutal members of Autocracy Inc. don't much care if their countries are criticized, or by whom. The leaders of Myanmar don't really have any ideology beyond nationalism, self-enrichment, and the desire to remain in power. The leaders of Iran confidently discount the views of Western infidels. The leaders of Cuba and Venezuela dismiss the statements of foreigners on the grounds that they are "imperialists." The leaders of China have spent a decade disputing the human-rights language long used by international institutions, successfully convincing many people around the world that these "Western" concepts don't apply to them. Russia has gone beyond merely ignoring foreign criticism to outright mocking it.

And that radio station everyone was reacting to? It wasn’t even in Guatemala. The disc jockeys aired their “reports” from a shack in Nicaragua. Many of their broadcasts had actually been prerecorded earlier in the year.

In Florida.

In an office belonging to the Central Intelligence Agency.

The radio station that had all of Guatemala in such a frenzy was part of a secret CIA “terror program based on Orson Welles,” declassified documents now show. It was overseen by an American actor and spy novelist whose salary was paid by U.S. tax dollars. The whole operation was, to use today’s parlance, “fake news.”

The APBA began pushing back against plastics restrictions around the country in 2011. Around 2015, the industry group upped its game. Rather than just opposing individual bans, the APBA began lobbying for state preemption laws. The approach, which another Koch brothers-affliated group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has used to fight local action on other issues, including pesticide restrictions and living wage laws, prevents cities and towns from passing local plastic bans. In the past eight years, the American Chemistry Council has helped pass preemption bills based on ALEC’s model in 13 states. According to Seaholm, who joined the group in 2016, 42 percent of Americans now live in states where they can’t pass local bans on plastics.

It may come as an even greater surprise that bushido once received more recognition abroad than in Japan. In 1900 writer Inazo Nitobe's published Bushido: The Soul of Japan in English, for the Western audience. Nitobe subverted fact for an idealized imagining of Japan's culture and past, infusing Japan's samurai class with Christian values in hopes of shaping Western interpretations of his country.

Though initially rejected in Japan, Nitobe's ideology would be embraced by a government driven war machine. Thanks to its empowering vision of the past, the extreme nationalist movement embraced bushido, exploiting The Soul of Japan to pave Japan's way to fascism in the buildup to World War II.

In an expertly designed data visualization, the Times guided us through its own version of events, which boils down to: Hamas started it, and Israel responded in self-defense. Data from the last three flare-ups is included in the same way, gently suggesting to readers that this is a pattern.

What follows is a breakdown of some ways that design can be misused to tell a biased story.

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