Unlike some other platforms, YouTube has not yet been blocked by the Russian government, and it is also available to Russians who access the internet with virtual private network, or VPN, connections.
A channel Pevchikh and her colleagues set up to cover the war in Ukraine has seen rapid growth from Russians who want to know more, she said.
When I pointed out that dichotomy — that in the US, YouTube is just as often accused of spreading false information — she said it’s one of the few ways her organization and others can get around the state-run propaganda machine that dominates more traditional media.
“YouTube predominantly is the source of the actually not fake news or the actual real news,” Pevchikh said.
That does not mean Pevchikh and Navalny, who is in a Russian penal colony, are happy with YouTube and its parent company, Google.
Here are excerpts of the Twitter thread, translated from Russian by Google:
- “19/31 @Google and @Meta stopped selling ads in Russia. And this seriously complicated the work of the opposition. Our organization has good opportunities, only 3 of our YouTube channels have 6.5, 2.7 and 1.1 million subscribers, but this is not enough to conduct a nationwide campaign.”
- “20/31 After all, we need to agitate not supporters, but opponents and doubters. And when we could give well-targeted ads, it worked. We gave battle to Putin’s propaganda and won.”
- “24/31 Even if such advertising is bought at full commercial price, its cost is ridiculous compared to the cost of war.”
- “25/31 One shot from a javelin costs $230,000. For the same money, we will get 200 million views of ads in various formats and provide at least 300,000 clicks or at least 8 million views of a video with the truth about what is happening in Ukraine.”
No comment. Neither Google nor YouTube responded directly to Navalny’s request that ads be reinstated.
But the request may not be as simple as Navalny makes it sound. Google also has a policy that prohibits ads that capitalize on sensitive events, such as the war in Ukraine.
What YouTube is doing. A spokesperson for YouTube pointed me toward the decision in March to pause YouTube ads in Russia.
There’s a difference between allowing monetization, as Navalny wants, and enabling access to content.
Struggling to stay connected. Natalia Krapiva is the tech-legal counsel for Access Now, a group that pushes for digital rights around the world. She told me her group has fielded complaints from Russian independent media, nongovernmental organizations, activists and human rights organizations that are all trying to figure out how to stay online and connected.
Unplugging independent voices. She mentioned companies like Slack, the communication platform, and Mailchimp, the newsletter and website company, that are pulling out of Russia and thereby unplugging human rights and independent media organizations.
Mailchimp will keep some Russia accounts. A spokesperson for Mailchimp said that while the organization stands by its prior decision to suspend all accounts in Russia, it is now making exceptions.
“We recognize that many individuals and organizations within Russia oppose the war and share our values, including some of our customers affected by this policy,” the company said in a statement, which adds that Mailchimp now has a “process for evaluating and reinstating select accounts, including independent news organizations, civil rights, and similar groups.”
It would not offer specifics on which or how many accounts have been reinstated.
Larger fears about losing access. One group that uses Slack and was cut off from Mailchimp is OVD-Info, an independent human rights group that has sought to use technology to document Russia’s arrests of protesters after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. CNN has repeatedly linked to its work.
Its co-founder, Daniel Beilinson, told me his real worry is that Russia loses access to the internet and the outside world.
“It’s an information flow between Russia and the world,” he said. “It is really important for the Russians who want to receive independent information, but also for the other countries who want to understand what’s happening inside Russia.”
“Putin’s goal is to isolate the people, leave them one-on-one with the propaganda, cut off all alternative information and to suppress all independent voices,” Krapiva said. “And by cutting off internet services, we help him.”
Cloudflare also charted increased traffic from Russia to US, French and British news outlets, although it did not specify which ones.
Internet neutrality. A US-based organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is one of many that helps facilitate the backbone of the internet, and has rejected Ukraine’s calls to cut Russia’s access to the global internet.
Cloudflare also rejected calls to exit Russia.
“Our conclusion, in consultation with (government and civil society) experts, is that Russia needs more Internet access, not less,” Prince wrote in a March blog post.