Ahead next presidential elections, the Kremlin starts 100 Telegram anonymous channels

The Kremlin is preparing to launch at least 100 anonymous channels on Telegram, the encrypted instant messaging service, according to Russian Rbk financial magazine. One way to influence the 2018 presidential election campaign.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin addresses the media after sessions of the Council of Heads of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Sochi, Russia October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Russia's President Vladimir Putin addresses the media after sessions of the Council of Heads of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Sochi, Russia October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Rbk's revelations report of an task conferred directly by the presidential administration to a specialized company, which will develop 100 anonymous channels in dozens of Russian cities. The quoted sources are from the Kremlin's political apparatus as well as the company itself.

The channels will have a defined content of "political orientation" and should start their activities as early as the end of October in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Ekaterinburg, Pyatigorsk, Krasnodar, Samara, Murmansk, Orel, Omsk, Makhachkala , Tyumen, Vologda, and Novosibirsk.

There are four or five channels for each city. The rest of the resorts would not have been decided yet.

This is a rather challenging project. In larger cities, such as Saint Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, Novosibirsk, Krasnodar and Yekaterinburg, up to five people will be employed to fill the channels. It will be journalists employed in regional media and press staff. According to the source inside the Kremlin, then the cost will be borne by the regional administrations, but the political address will come directly from the presidential administration.

A political tool

The Kremlin's move, if confirmed, takes place amid not easy days for Telegram in Russia. Just a few days ago, its founder Pavel Durov reveled the secret services asked for the keys to decrypt the app. Durov - a Russian citizen exiled to St. Kitts and Nevis after receiving pressures from FSB - has published on his Vkontakte profile the documents with which the secret services asked the keys to decrypt any content transmitted by Telegram. Request to which Durov has always opposed.

Telegram has about ten million users in Russia. In recent times, the app - thanks to the security of the encryption method - has created a network of contacts between young opponents to Putin's power. So much to be transformed into a parallel social network, where political information is exchanged, impenetrable in the eyes of the police and the Fsb. Quite significant in a country where you can be sentenced to two years in prison for just sharing a post.

Now, it seems that the Kremlin has set its eyes on Telegram from another point of view. Not as a threat to fight but as a tool to exploit for next year's presidential elections.

Telegram and propaganda

It is no coincidence that according to Rbk the 100 channels will not have long life and will probably be closed before next spring. Elections will be held in March.

Analyst Stanislav Aranovich is convinced that it is a sensible move. "The authorities do not have enough informal communication channels. The traditional media framework is tight", he said. In other words, there is a whole slice of population - educated young people living in large cities, the so-called "generation P", who didn’t know any other President but Putin - who are not reached by propaganda spread by television and newspapers.

"Anonymous Telegram channels are gaining tremendous success. They have formed a multimedia space that have prominent influencers in it", Aranovich said.

Obviously, the Russian authorities could not remain indifferent. Rbk's revelations seem to show an approach of the kind "when you cannot defeat it, make it an ally", there is no doubt that they are a further sign of the of Kremlin’s great agility in exploiting new technologies as a propaganda tool.

@daniloeliatweet

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