Russian Government Mouthpiece, RT, Struggles to Find a Platform

Russian propaganda network, RT, has been experiencing blockades and is struggling to stay online.

Yesterday, we reported on the exodus of corporations from Russia. All this because Putin decided to invade Ukraine. RT (Russia Times), of course, has long been a tool for advancing Putin’s own interests. The network has long been trying to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt, about western interests while trying to promote how great Russia is. Networks have basically tolerated the source and allowed it to run. While many platforms have just given it a collective eye roll, the war on Ukraine has changed the situation dramatically.

Russian interests have been trying to advance completely baseless conspiracy theories such as the bombing of civilian infrastructure was really just weapons directed at secret labs building chemical weapons or that Ukraine was somehow taken over by a Nazi occupation and that Russia was just going in to “de-Nazify” the country. In the case of the hospital being bombed, those interests were, at one point, suggesting that the hospital just magically blew itself up and that those explosives had nothing to do with Russia despite the constant shelling of structures. Obviously, non of this even comes close to passing the laugh test, but Putin has been flinging anything and everything at the wall hoping something will stick to justify his invasion of Ukraine.

Naturally, the climate isn’t exactly as friendly to a source like RT. With corporations leaving the country en-mass, all hands are really on deck to “do something” to support Ukraine. One method is to basically deplatform RT. Canadian telecom giants dropped RT from their networks. From Digital TV Europe:

Major cable operators in the country including Rogers Communications, Bell, Telus Optik TV and Shaw Communications have said that they would drop RT from their channel lineups in response to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

This comes after the EU banned RT and news agency Sputnik last week, with the union calling RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan a “central figure” of Russian propaganda. The UK’s foreign secretary has said that Ofcom will investigate RT’s status in the country.

Canada’s official Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has not commented directly on the blanket drop of RT, but heritage minister Pablo Rodriguez has condemned the broadcaster, saying: “RT is the propaganda arm of Putin’s regime that spreads disinformation. It has no place here.”

Some critics, of course, point out that the whole reason RT was allowed to broadcast in the first place was because it paid the networks money to allow it to be part of the lineup in the first place.

YouTube and Meta have also apparently followed suit and banned RT and other Russian state sponsored news outlets. From Business Insider:

YouTube is joining Meta in banning state-funded Russian media organizations from running ads or profiting on its platform.

The company suspended RT and several other Russian accounts on Saturday, a YouTube spokesperson confirmed to Insider. The removal comes in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin authorizing a full-scale attack on Ukraine on Thursday, involving launching airstrikes across the country and pushing forces into the country’s capital of Kyiv.

The spokesperson said the company is also in the process of removing thousands of videos that violate YouTube’s policies against deceptive practices.

“In light of extraordinary circumstances in Ukraine, we’re taking a number of actions,” the spokesperson said. “We’re pausing a number of channels’ ability to monetize on YouTube, including several Russian channels affiliated with recent sanctions. We will be significantly limiting recommendations to these channels. And in response to a government request, we’ve restricted access to RT and a number of other channels in Ukraine.”

The bans were also extended on Telegram and TikTok. From Politico:

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok all scrubbed Russia’s RT — and its channels in English, Spanish, French and German — off their platforms after the European Union imposed sanctions on the Kremlin-backed media network.

But these organizations, which are pushing Russian falsehoods and talking points about the war in Ukraine, are alive and kicking on Telegram, the encrypted messenger, even after the company said it had blocked them Friday within the 27-country bloc.

In a statement, Telegram spokesperson Remi Vaughn said the social network had now barred Kremlin-backed media outlets from using its platform within the EU. “The process is now completed and all RT channels are blocked,” he said. Vaughn said the ban currently applied to only people who had signed into Telegram with an EU-based phone number. The companies’ engineers were expanding that to include people with non-EU phone numbers who were physically located in the bloc.

Europe has also called on Google to scrub RT from all search results. From the Washington Post:

The European Union has told Google to wipe Russian state media organizations RT and Sputnik from search results in Europe as part of its sanctions on the two entities, a sharp escalation in government attempts to shut down Russian propaganda on tech platforms and sparking fresh concerns regarding regulation of free speech.

Now, a document uploaded by Google to a database of government requests shows E.U. officials explaining how the order applies not just to the social media accounts of RT and Sputnik, but also to search results and to posts from individuals who “reproduce” content from the two media organizations on any social media platform. The E.U. letter does carve out an exception for media organizations reporting on the sanctions.

The E.U.’s position is a “far-reaching and remarkable interpretation of the law,” said TJ McIntyre, an associate professor at University College Dublin who studies Internet law and civil liberties. The document wasn’t made public by the E.U., so it also raises questions about transparency, McIntyre said. “We have very little insight into how it’s actually being applied.”

Reports suggest that RT are finding smaller platforms that allow it to continue to operate. Still, the blocking and banning on traditional airwaves as well as major platforms is, no doubt, going to have a major impact on the sources reach. In fact, the American arm of RT, RT America, has announced that they have effectively shut down. From Variety:

The American branch of Russian state-funded media network Russia Today (RT) is shutting down and laying off most of its staff, CNN reports.

According to a memo, RT America will be “ceasing production” due to “unforeseen business interruption events.”

“Unfortunately, we anticipate this layoff will be permanent, meaning that this will result in the permanent separation from employment of most T&R employees at all locations,” the memo said, via CNN.

Per CNN, Misha Solodovnikov, the general manager of T&R Productions, the production company behind RT, delivered the news in person to hosts, correspondents, producers and others in the Washington, D.C. bureau. She said staff will be provided two months of paid severance.

So, it’s quite clear that these blockades are, in fact, having a major impact on operations. As other sanctions and financial blockades continue to grip Russia, it’s going to make it more difficult to continue funding these operations. We’ll have to see what long term impacts there are of these sanctions and whether this will have long term implications for the state sponsored network. Still, these immediate setbacks are proving to be quite painful as well.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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