Three leading Ukrainian media companies, Ukrainska Pravda, Novoye Vremya, and Hromadske, partnered with an NFT platform in an effort to help fund the publications' coverage of the war.
( Business Wire
BROOKE GLADSTONE Olga TOKARIUK is a journalist based in Ukraine.
Fighting war fatigue is one challenge. Playing whack a mole with Russian misinformation is another. Andrey Boborykin and is executive director of Ukrainska Pravda, one of Ukraine's biggest independent outlets. He's also a member of the Media Development Foundation, helping independent Ukrainian media survive the war. He looked into big tech companies like Google and Facebook a.k.a Meta to see if they're actually keeping Russian propaganda off their platforms. They said they would. But mostly, he says: they're not.
ANDREY BOBORYKIN When the war started in Ukraine, Facebook and Google were quick to say that, okay, we are banning in Russia today and Sputnik and all the state run channels from our platforms. And when I checked, Russian state run media outlets were performing outstandingly well. They had like hundreds of millions of views per month. Bigger than CNN on YouTube.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Google and Facebook, or Meta would say that they banned a lot of these sites after the invasion. But, for instance, on Facebook, they're really under a shadow ban. So you can still search for pages.
ANDREY BOBORYKIN Yeah so what they did was prevent people living in the USA or Canada from accessing these pages. They did the same thing in Europe, but they have been left on the platform. And if you are not living in the territories that I mentioned in Nigeria, for instance, you can access this content freely even if you are in Ukraine. If I'm using a VPN, I can take a link from Russia Today, which you cannot access from Ukraine because it's banned in our country. But I can take any link and I can post it on my Facebook account.
BROOKE GLADSTONE What do you think these platforms should be doing to prevent lies from being propagated on their sites?
ANDREY BOBORYKIN I think that the big tech, both Facebook, Meta and Google should acknowledge that these properties have been able to freely evolve on their platforms. Right now it feels like this is like a new thing. Russia Today, Sputnik and Russia One all of a sudden appeared on February 24 on Facebook and Google and YouTube. In fact, it was several years of systemic growth, a big part of which was incentivized by advertising.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You also feel a great deal of frustration with the way that they have been banning certain Ukrainian content, which you say does effectively serve the readers.
ANDREY BOBORYKIN Yeah. We work with over 50 independent local publishers in Ukraine, and a lot of data comes through us about their content being banned and their Facebook pages being penalized for violating the Facebook community guidelines. But when we go deeper into that, it appears that a lot of these bans are actually strange interpretations of very broad guidelines that Facebook has. A very frequent example is when a publisher reports a news piece that involves Azov Battalion, which is like a military unit.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is a very controversial unit. In the past, it had connections with far right groups. It had a terrible reputation, but it has been fighting on the side of Ukraine in this war. And you noted that there's a tremendous double standard. International organizations report a lot about Azov and that using that logic, you said you could report on ISIS or Al Qaida.
ANDREY BOBORYKIN Yes. In many cases, what is banned is clearly information within the public interest. The publishers are being penalized for just doing their job, which is crazy. We Ukraine used to be a region that is not of a big interest to big tech companies. We don't have like a very big, dedicated team of specialists who work through these cases. It's a matter of hiring, I don't know, ten more people for the media team that works specifically with Ukraine, because currently, as far as we know, it's a couple of people working from Poland that have to deal with hundreds of requests and queries.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Right. It would be terribly expensive for a small startup like Facebook to hire a few more people to cover this issue. But I know what gets up your nose that Google doesn't get any bashing, but it's just as bad. You think.
ANDREY BOBORYKIN Yeah because YouTube. It's one of the biggest websites in Ukraine. Over 20 million people monthly are visiting YouTube. And Google gets very little bashing for allowing Russian funded content to proliferate on this platform. They have like a very personal example. A couple of weeks ago, Nikolai, which is my hometown that is currently heavily shelled by the Russians. I had to evacuate my wife's grandparents from there. When I was moving their stuff to take to Kiev. I noticed that they had a smart television. It allows you to watch YouTube and there was a YouTube on showing a channel that they clearly know is funded by the Russian propaganda funds. And you could freely watch it in the cities that is heavily shelled by Russians. So I think that 100% Google isn't doing enough to prevent that from happening.
BROOKE GLADSTONE That's Andrey Bobarykin. He's the CEO of Ukrainska Pravda. Just after the Russian invasion, Bobi, a Ukrainian gamer, made his own escape with help from his followers in the game: Escape from Tarkov. We'll recap that adventure and then reveal his next chapter. This is On the Media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone. Now we turn to the exodus of refugees from Ukraine, which was described as the fastest growing displacement of people in Europe since the Second World War. Back in March, we brought you the story of Bobi, a twitch streamer and his family's flight from the war. We're rerunning it now, but if you've already heard it, stick around for a brand new second part of the piece. Micah, take it away.