Some of the most popular social media platforms in Russia include YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook. But with Russia limiting access to those platforms — or in some cases blocking them entirely — Russians are fleeing to the next-best still-active platforms. In some cases, they're even creating their own on the fly.
Clubhouse and Telegram have emerged as platforms for anti-war Russian civilians to coordinate but also as a breeding ground for Russian propaganda. (An Instagram clone is in development, but hasn't yet launched.) While the platforms have in some ways allowed people in the country to communicate and speak more freely about the war, they’ve also allowed Russian-run channels to publish content that would be blocked elsewhere.
Earlier this week, a TikTok user commented on her own video asking people to subscribe to her Telegram channel. The channel is filled with information about Russia’s response to the war, from footage purporting to show Russian people being arrested to a translation of President Vladimir Putin’s recent speech.
Russian-language news, politics and commentary channels are using the platform too, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. Telegram is being used to show footage of attacks on the ground in Ukraine and spread information about the war. The Washington Post and The New York Times have begun using the platform more regularly to report on the war too.
It’s unclear why Telegram hasn’t been blocked in Russia, and the platform itself doesn’t know if the country intends to do so. But Telegram, which started in Russia, helps the Kremlin communicate as well, and the WSJ reported that pro-Kremlin channels are growing quickly. In this instance, the platform serves a purpose for both anti-war Russians and Putin.
Clubhouse had a moment, then most people forgot about it. But Russians are using the audio-based platform to discuss and debate the war in rooms that have been running for a couple weeks now.
A user named Masha told Input that she’s used the platform to talk about her opinions while trying to avoid the country’s “fake news” law that has forced TikTok to suspend livestreaming and new content in Russia. Masha said she’s able to communicate with the western world that Putin is the problem, not civilians.
Russian officials don’t seem to have a close eye on the platform. But that hands-off approach might not last too long. And Russian civilians using Clubhouse told Input they’re going to keep talking on the platform until it’s no longer an option.
Russian developers were prepared to be cut off from Instagram, and so a handful of them created Instagram clone Rossgram, which will be available to users within the coming weeks.
The project was announced shortly after Russia blocked access to Instagram earlier this week. Rossgram developers said in their announcement of the new platform that they didn’t want to “miss the opportunity to create a Russian analogue of a popular social network beloved by our compatriots.” Instagram is more popular than Facebook in Russia, according to app store downloads.