telephone campaign against Russian disinformation

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Faced with Kremlin censorship and disinformation about the war in Ukraine, a group of Lithuanians on March 8 launched the #CallRussia information campaign, which involves calling Russian citizens to warn them of the reality of the conflict. After a difficult start, its organizers now claim to attract more attention from Russian citizens.

With the start of the war in Ukraine on February 24, Russia introduced strict control over the information brought to the attention of citizens about its military actions. In addition to censoring a number of independent media outlets and restricting access to social media, Vladimir Putin signed a new law criminalizing “dissemination of false information about the Russian military”, which is now punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

To counter this over-the-top propaganda strategy, a group of Lithuanian activists launched a phone call campaign to Russian citizens called #CallRussia. The concept couldn’t be simpler: call as many people as possible to alert them to the reality of the Moscow “special operation”.

40 million calls

On March 3, a week after the start of the offensive, Paulus Seniute received a phone call from a friend in Vilnius. “He told me that he had downloaded Russian phone books, and I immediately thought that this could be a way to contact the citizens of the country who have no idea what is really going on,” explains the young man contacted by France 24.

Over the next few days, Paulus Senyuta and his friends worked diligently on their concept, contacting dozens of technology experts, communications specialists and psychologists to organize the #CallRussia information campaign.

Launched on March 8, the initiative is a digital platform that allows Russian-speaking volunteers from around the world to connect with 40 million Russians whose phone numbers are encoded and registered in its database.

“One conversation cannot defeat Putin’s evil propaganda, but millions of conversations can do it (…) Putin is afraid of only one thing: the power of the Russian people. stand up to Putin,” read on the platform’s website.

“Putin will take care of you !”

About 25,000 volunteers from 116 countries joined the movement in just two weeks, according to the organization, and about 100,000 calls were made.

Paulius Senuza, for his part, claims to have made about 150 calls and the first days were the hardest. “There were basically two types of interaction. About two-thirds of the people were really, really angry and yelled at me for five to seven minutes. The other third of the callers were just polite, didn’t talk, just listened. people were very scared. talk”.

Faced with the aggressiveness of some Russians, Paulus Senyuta admits that he experienced difficulties. “Emotionally it’s hard, you have to be ready for it before you call,” he says, noting that #CallRussia has developed scripts and guidelines to help volunteers deal with the many challenges of calling.

“I was treated to a real lunatic who asked me if I knew who she was, who told me that she was Putin’s daughter and that she was going to denounce me to her father. told me,” says Paulus Senutsa.

Hate mail and hacking

The Lithuanian activist claims that during the three weeks of the campaign, his team received several hate messages and his website was subjected to multiple cyberattacks. “We get messages like ‘How much are you being paid for this’ and ‘Stop lying. [les pirates informatiques] We have tried several times to take the site down, but we always get it back up and running fairly quickly.”

Paulus Senuta argues that the Kremlin’s propaganda, which is massively broadcast in Russia on state television and the Internet, coupled with a policy of severe media censorship, affects the population, especially the elderly.

“They are [les personnes interrogées] everyone repeats about the same thing: this is a very small purposeful military operation to denazify Ukraine, so that Russia would save the Ukrainian people and bring them food and clothes. It looks like a copy-paste of information from Russian state media.”

Allow opponents to speak

Although he acknowledges that the mission of the #CallRussia campaign is far from simple, Paulus Senuza nevertheless believes that the dialogue is ongoing. “The mood seems to be changing,” he explains. “People don’t scream as much anymore and we’re seeing better interaction. More people are speaking out and conversations are getting longer.” This does not necessarily mean that Russian public opinion has suddenly changed its mind, but it is a very positive signal, he said.

According to the activist, increasing the duration of calls is one of the only ways to measure the success of the project. “What we’re trying to do is convey the scale of human tragedy so that people take a stand based on humanitarian issues rather than ideological issues, and some of our volunteers are now able to talk to people for quite a long time, sometimes for an hour.”

A useful development for an activist who is nevertheless aware of the limits of his initiative. “The more we can talk to people, the more we can tell them what is really going on, and we think it can have a real impact and change their attitude towards the war,” he said. “We are well aware that we will not be able to convince the most ardent supporters of the war, but if we manage to neutralize their rhetoric, the opponents of the military operation will feel stronger and will then be able to take to the streets. [pour protester].”

The article was translated from English by David Rich. To read the original, it’s here.

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