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Who and why needed to turn Telegram-channels into information weapons?

It is a pity that young people are being used by curators as food for powder through anonymous Telegram-channels, while sitting in soft chairs somewhere abroad. Criminal cases are being initiated and violators are being detained. The closer the presidential elections are, the more actively destructive messengers are calling for rioting in the streets, replicating hoaxes, spewing threats and insults at people who have expressed their opinion in support of peace, stability and security in Belarus. How do technologies work and can we protect Belarusians from the negative impact of network sites? Let's ask the experts: Head of Information and Public Relations Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Olga Chemodanova, Assistant Dean of the Department of Journalism at BSU for Academic Activities and Educational Innovations, Candidate of Philology Vladimir Stepanov and analyst at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Research Vitaly Demirov.

«SB»: What has become the ground for misinformation, how are hoaxes created?

V.Demirov: The modern media market has recently shifted quite drastically towards digital platforms, as evidenced by the decline in press runs and high concentration of users on social media communication platforms. A special place is occupied by Telegram channels, which, among other things, have become one of the main tools for shaping political discourse and protest movements.

The high speed of information receipt, processing and dissemination by each Internet user, low threshold for entering the digital environment with no vertical data filters allow any participant to set their news trend. This does not require any special education or professional equipment for creating plots.

The use of "Onion routing" data encryption in a specialized Tor browser or installation of VPN services, the ability to use end-to-end encryption from hacked correspondence, the ability to instantly change mobile phone numbers, nicknames and domain names, and the presence of crypto currencies that can be used to pay for a news post have all together made the creators of many Telegram channels almost elusive. This situation created a local information space which, on the one hand, had a halo of mystery as a source of insight, and on the other, became the basis for deliberate misinformation against the background of low (or even no) fact-checking.

In order to reinforce it, some channels seek to promote an idea of their own affiliation with a particular official or relevant agency.

In fact, back in 2016 it became clear through a series of "insider experiments" in the Russian information space that there were no large administrative groups or forces of influence behind the channels. The demonstration of such awareness was in fact a hoax, as was seen in the example of «Nezygar».

Its authors simply waited for the night when federal newspapers published a fresh issue on the website, took inside information from there and published it as their own information before most readers could understand that the content was not authentic. The same with analytics: they took it from publicly available resources, including the blog of political scientist Tatiana Stanova and the website of the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

The large number of hoaxes in Telegram channels is not due to their anonymity, but to their extreme venality. If you have a budget, you can go to almost any channel or even a network of channels by contacting the administrator and paying for a post with a certain number of characters.

You can even buy a channel and promote an agenda that is advantageous for you. Technically, it is very easy to sell, just hand over your SIM card to the buyer.

However, negotiations are often disrupted due to the need to physically give away the SIM card. This state of affairs leads to the fact that the concepts of truth and reliability are now threatened, and the battle of interests and budgets takes over. The situation will not change until effective, real-time fact-checking technical tools become available.

The full article is available on the Russian version of the website.