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Here's how Telegram channels probably operated from Russia affect the work of Ukrainian parliament

Published simultaneously by Texty.org.ua and Liga.net, The Ukrainian version is here

We analyzed the content of the favorite Telegram channels of the deputies of the "Servant of the People" for the period from September 1, 2019 to April 1, 2020 in order to find out how over 10 thousand messages could influence decisions made in the Verkhovna Rada.

This investigation affected the named figures so much that the author was bullied

TEXTY asked the Servant of the People (SP) deputies who got into the parliament on party lists to name a their five favorite political Telegram channels. Many refused to answer the question. But there were also those who, after long persuasions, voiced their "TOP-5" on condition of anonymity: they say, "one may understand me wrong" or "I am ashamed to confess."

After analyzing the answers of the SP deputies, we found out that their favorite political channels Telegram are:

In particular, they were named by the first deputy chairman of the "Servant of the People" parliamentary faction, Oleksandr Kornienko.

Photo-shopped image from the Telegram channel "The Dark Knight". One of the favorite ways to discredit high-ranking officials is to accuse them of being gay. For example, "The Dark Knight" has repeatedly called Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, Head of the State Customs Service Maksym Nefiodov, Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka, and NABU Chief Artem Sytnyk "fa**ots"
Photo-shopped image from the Telegram channel "The Dark Knight". One of the favorite ways to discredit high-ranking officials is to accuse them of being gay. For example, "The Dark Knight" has repeatedly called Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, Head of the State Customs Service Maksym Nefiodov, Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka, and NABU Chief Artem Sytnyk "fa**ots"

"Dubinsky.pro" is for me like a litmus test for the vote of the faction, and given that he re-posts the channels of Buzhansky (telegram channel "Max Buzhansky" - ed.) and other (Telegram channels - ed.), I cover more than one channel of alleged "influence", but which clearly trace some of the political preferences of colleagues", the chairman of the subcommittee on digital infrastructure, electronic communications and smart infrastructure of the parliamentary committee on digital transformation Oleksandr Fedienko explains his interest in the Telegram channel.

As to Serhiy Hryvko, a member of the parliamentary committee on social policy and protection of veterans' rights, he fully trusts the "Dubinsky.pro" Telegram channel and considers it a source of exclusive information.

Deputies of the “Servant of the People” faction Oleksandr Dubinsky (pictured left) and Maksym Buzhansky run their Telegram channels and regularly repost each other
Deputies of the “Servant of the People” faction Oleksandr Dubinsky (pictured left) and Maksym Buzhansky run their Telegram channels and regularly repost each other

Bohdan Yaremenko, a member of the parliamentary foreign policy committee, says he reads "Dubinsky.pro" and "The Dark Knight" "only if someone draws his attention to them". And at the same time he says that he is not able to correctly assess the Telegram channels in terms of the veracity of the information provided in them.

Even President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted to journalists that he had subscribed to the "Legitimate" and "Dark Knight" channels. However, he assures that he opened the Telegram only a few times and no longer reads anonymous channels, because he saw that there was "general chaos and delirium."

"I have a strong feeling that this pool (all these "Legitimates", " Residents", "ZeRadas", etc.) is not administered in Ukraine. "The Dark Knight", though a scoundrel, is our own scoundrel," Yevhenia Kravchuk, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on humanitarian and information policy, speaks out her impression.

We do not tend to trust intuition, but we do believe in the power of content analysis. Therefore, we analyzed the content of the favorite Telegram channels of the deputies of the "Servant of the People" for the period from September 1, 2019 to April 1, 2020, to find out how more than 10 thousand messages could influence decisions made in the Verkhovna Rada.

Zelensky is "played chicken"

The target audience of the political Telegram channels we studied is not the general public, but key figures of the state: the president, deputies, government officials, and heads of law enforcement agencies. This is evidenced by the style of materials. Authors communicate with their subscribers as colleagues: they often omit official job titles, use work slang, and do not explain the context. As a result, for a person who is not very interested in politics, messages from the Telegram channels resemble something between a crossword puzzle and a stream of consciousness.

For example, we open "The Dark Knight" and read: "Today Slava Medyanyk (remember who it is? - ed.) approached Arahamiya (oh, a familiar name - ed.) after the vote on the gambling business and began to support it, saying, do not worry, we shall pass it, and accusing Kolomoisky (hmm, most likely, it's about the oligarch Ihor Valeriyovych Kolomoisky - ed.) that it was the people of Kolomoisky who didn't vote, and he didn't have the brains to look that Pavlyuk's people didn't vote (who is Pavlyuk, and who are his people? - ed.).

Despite the fact that the "Dark Knight" has more than 100 thousand subscribers, his message will be instantly understood only by those who are "in" (first of all, the deputies of the Rads). And for those who are "off topic", Google help you!

At times of fierce information battles for strategic decisions, the Telegram channels address the President, the Prosecutor General, and the head of the Security Service of Ukraine directly. Sometimes they ask, sometimes they threaten, and sometimes they flatter.

Because they know that this information will definitely catch the eye of the ruler. For, first of all, law enforcement agencies constantly monitor the content that concerns the first persons of the state. And secondly, the VIPs themselves can not restrain their curiosity and look into the territory of rumors.

For example, in the fall of 2019, the Telegram channels wrote about a hundred times about the withdrawal of troops in the Donbas. And in all reports, President Zelensky was assured of the need for such a step. Here are just a few examples of information manipulations of the Telegram channels aimed at the commander in chief in the fall of 2019:

Perhaps Zelensky, like the residents of the "gray zone", thought that after the withdrawal of troops it will become quiet on the streets of frontline cities. He ordered the troops to withdraw, but the shelling of schools and houses never stopped.

A new "chicken" challenge from the authors of the Telegram channels for the president sounds like this: "if Volodymyr Oleksandrovych [Zelensky] really wants to become a peacemaker, then let him really make peace in the Donbass, even to the detriment of his own rating." After all, "people are ready to give the Donbas a special status," because "they are tired of blood and senseless war in the Donbas."

Good and bad personnel

Ukraine is a parliamentary-presidential republic. Therefore, in addition to passing laws, the Verkhovna Rada has many powers. It can appoint and dismiss the prime minister and members of the government, the head of the Security Service, the head of the National Bank, members of the Central Electoral Committee and other key senior officials in the country. And since the "Servant of the People" has the majority of votes in the parliament, influencing their views means secretly directing political processes.

To get the status of a gray cardinal of Ukrainian politics, you just need to push it well into the heads of the deputies regarding who is good (personnel) and who is bad.

For example, Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk has been criticized by the Telegram channels since his first days in office.

"Was it so difficult to find just any associate professor of economics from any university in the country instead of the idiot Honcharuk?" wrote the anonymous Telegram channel "Dark Knight", which convinces readers that he is a deputy from the faction "Servant of the People".

While Honcharuk was prime minister, the Telegram channels explained 394 times to their readers that the head of government was a "boy with Down", an "ignoramus", a "loser", a "nit", etc. In the news published from September 2019 to April 2020, Honcharuk was shown in a positive light in only one case out of a hundred. In a few months of a deadly information attack, the prime minister was drowned in the negativity, and 240 out of 246 deputies of the Servant of the People faction voted for his dismissal.

Having analyzed all the reports about the heads of law enforcement agencies, we saw that there were no (!) positive reports about the Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka, the head of the secret Service Ivan Bakanov, and the head of the NABU Artem Sytnyk.

Photo-shopped image from a Telegram channel mocking Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka for allegedly slowing down the investigation of criminal proceedings involving the fifth president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko
Photo-shopped image from a Telegram channel mocking Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka for allegedly slowing down the investigation of criminal proceedings involving the fifth president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko

For example, Ryaboshapka was mentioned 264 times, and almost always (80% of messages) it was in a negative light, monotonously repeating the need for his resignation. According to the administrators of the Telegram channels, "the Prosecutor General's Office follows the instructions of the US Embassy, not the Office of the President," and "all the cases that Ryaboshapka successfully ruined for six months cost billions of hryvnias." Loud accusations were usually made without any evidence, but with a good portion of well-selected obscene language.

As a result, 171 deputies from the "Servant of the People" faction voted for Ryaboshapka's dismissal, and another 44 votes were added by deputies from the "Opposition Platform/For Life" faction.

On day of the dismissal vote, the Prosecutor General concluded his speech as follows: “The resolution (of no confidence in the Prosecutor General - ed.) is based on outright lies. I am not interested in the opinion of Buzhansky (deputy from the "Servant of the People" and the author of the Telegram channel "Max Buzhansky" - ed.) about the reform of the prosecutor's office. For me, the best assessment is a letter from Kateryna Handziuk's father… I did not become anyone's servant, I was and I am independent".

Positive reports about the prosecutor general began to appear only after Iryna Venediktova, a supporter of pro-Russian politician Andriy Portnov, got into Ryaboshapka's office.

"They're goners" [obscene] The Telegram channels write about the newly appointed Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova either in a positive or a neutral way
"They're goners" [obscene] The Telegram channels write about the newly appointed Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova either in a positive or a neutral way

"Oh, dear chiefs, is it possible to make Venediktova combine the positions of the head of the SBI and the Prosecutor General?" wrote the channel "Max Buzhansky".

"[Anti-corruption activist] Shabunin howling about Venediktova is the best advertisement for the new Prosecutor General," Dubinsky.pro, Max Buzhansky and the Legitimate channels spoke in unison, within a few minutes of one another.

Currently, information attacks on the Telegram channels are aimed at the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine Artem Sytnyk. He is constantly being called "corrupted."

"If I would be a journalist, I would ask the question about Sytnyk to the head of the Verkhovna Rada's anti-corruption committee Anastasia Krasnoselska. Is the committee going to initiate the resignation of NABU director Sytnyk? ” writes the "Dark Knight".

"I have prepared an open appeal addressed to President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which I inform the president about a glaring fact: the key anti-corruption body in the country, NABU is being run by a corrupt official. I am asking the guarantor to react and make a legal decision, that is to cleanse the anti-corruption system from the corrupt Sytnyk, ”adds "Dubinsky.pro".

"All foreign media are trumpeting that a corrupt official has turned out to be the head of the anti-corruption body in Ukraine. Our West-oriented media did not write a word about it. As if nothing had happened, and that's okay. We haven't heard anything from Zelensky and the team either, although now is the time to prepare a dismissal decree", ”The Resident" summed up.

We found none (!) positive messages about Sytnyk in seven months. Instead, there was total criticism of him.

The only example of professionalism and efficiency (according to the Telegram channels) was the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov. He is mostly written about neutrally (76% of messages). Negative mentions (only 12% of them) were published by the "Dark Knight". The rest of the Telegram channels call Avakov "the only effective enforcement officer" and a "tough leader" who has "strategic abilities" and "hardware thinking".

And the thesis of the Telegrams channels "The Legitimate" and "The Resident" that "Arsen Avakov demonstrates maximum efficiency against the background of unprofessional government" was later repeated by President Zelensky who answered questions from deputies of the "Servant of the People" about why he does not dismiss the Interior Minister: "He is one of the most effective government officials."

The relevant parliamentary committee on law enforcement is also in no hurry to consider the resolution on the dismissal of Arsen Avakov. This committee is headed by Denys Monastyrsky, a deputy from the "Servant of the People" faction. Despite the fact that the resolution was received by the committee on June 11, it was not considered at two scheduled meetings - on June 16 and July 1.

Just like Zelensky, Monastyrsky repeated the message from the Telegram channels: “Most of the Cabinet of Ministers are candidates to leave the government. Why? Because the ministries simply did not cope with certain directions. This is true of most ministries. Except for one, it is the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Because in this direction it is necessary to recognize unequivocally that it is one of the strongest ministries".

And they try not to write anything bad about President Zelensky, saying that he does not take criticism well. Psychologists understand that if such a sensitive president is upset once, he will no longer trust the Telegram channels. Consequently, he will fall out of the orbit of influence.

On Putin with Love

Favorite Telegram channels of the "Servant of the People" write much more often about Russia (760 mentions) than about the European Union (21) and the West as a whole (16). In seven months, the word "European integration" appears only five times in ten thousand messages, and "NATO" three times.

Here is how the "Dark Knight" criticizes Ukraine's association with the European Union: “In whose personal interests and in the interests of which countries did Ukraine turn wrong in 2013? What the hell do we need this Europe?”

At the same time, the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin is written about either neutrally (87%) or positively (12%). After carefully reading more than ten thousand messages that were published from September 2019 to April 2020, we found, on the favorite Telegram channels of MPs from the "Servant of the People", not a single one (!) negative epithet about Putin. Instead, he is called a "peacemaker" and a "strategist": "Putin does not put sticks in the wheels of the new government", "Zelensky uses Putin's tactics and strategy".

The authors of the Telegram channels write neutrally, in similar vein, about the Kremlin.

In continuation of the tolerant and soft attitude toward the Russian Federation, the Russian-Ukrainian war is called the "internal Ukrainian conflict", the "civil war", the "Donbas case", the "conflict in the Donbas", and the "conflict in southeastern Ukraine".

Significantly, after activists knocked down NSDC adviser Serhiy Syvokho for calling the Russian-Ukrainian war in the Donbas an "internal conflict," the Telegram channels erupted in criticism of disrupting the presentation of the National Platform for Reconciliation and Unity: "such a provocation is beneficial to the war party in Ukraine (they call the European Solidarity party this way - ed.), as well as to the "Kremlin clans", which also do not want the rapprochement of Ukraine and the Donbas", "Today it wasn't Syvokho who fell down, but Zelensky's peace initiatives!".

The support of pro-Russian politicians of Ukrainian origin is especially pronounced in the Telegram channels we have studied. For example, Anatoly Shariy is written about as one writes about recently deceased people: either well (47%) or neutral (52%). Readers are suggested that Shariy is "very independent", "good guy", "as always, he said it right", and in general, "Shariy's party is becoming the only alternative in the Center and in the South-East of the country."

And for Andriy Portnov, the anti-Maidan official and former adviser to Viktor Yanukovych, the same Portnov whom the Peacemaker website accuses of spying for Russia, the image is sculpted of a lawyer who pays taxes diligently and who gives sage advice to the current government. "if we had appointed Portnov as Prosecutor General, Lukash as Minister of Justice, and Vlashchenko as Minister of Culture, we would not see Yaremenko's correspondence with prostitutes in the news now", the channel "Max Buzhansky" writes.

In the media, we see how pro-Russian rhetoric in the favorite Telegram channels of the "Servant of the People" faction leaves a mark in the minds of the deputies.

For example, on December 10, 2019 "The Legitimate" insides that Zelensky allegedly agreed with Putin on direct gas supplies from Russia to Ukraine: “For the Ukrainian economy and the Ukrainian producer, this is a saving of millions of dollars that will go to the country's budget, not pockets of intermediaries under the guise of "patriotism" and fictional "energy independence".

On December 25, Oleksiy Ustenko, a 25-year-old MP from the "Servant of the People" faction, repeats this thesis: "The fact that the previous government forced us to buy Russian gas, but as a reverse from Europe, is also economically unprofitable."

The devil is in the detail

Both "The Legitimate" and "The Resident" who write about Russian-Ukrainian relations the most, categorically deny that they are administered from the Russian Federation. Indeed, we have no direct evidence of this.

But who benefits from praising Russia while wiping their feet on Ukrainian politicians?

The delicacy of the authors of the Telegram channels when mentioning Putin, Shariy, and Portnov is especially striking if we recall the words with which they boldly describe other politicians: the Prime Minister of Ukraine Oleksiy Honcharuk a "boy with Down", a "nit"; head of the Security Service of Ukraine Ivan Bakanov "Ivan the Fool", "idiot"; Chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine Artem Sytnyk an "alcoholic" and an "amoeba".

The Russian roots of these Telegram channels are noticeable if you pay attention to detail.

"The Resident" and "The Legitimate" channels call the Luhansk People's Republic and Donetsk People's Republic terrorist organizations "unrecognized republics," exactly as the Russian Wikipedia calls them: "Kyiv will fulfill the political part of the Minsk agreements only after the self-proclaimed Donetsk and the Luhansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR) will be disbanded", "Ukraine wants to advance the option of this peacekeeping contingent entering the LDPR-Russia border immediately. Unrecognized republics are categorically against such a "ring", but the bidding is going on".

Like the Russian media and the Russian authorities, neither the "Resident" nor the "Legitimate" ever used the word "terrorist" about the representatives of the terrorist organizations "LPR" and "DPR". Instead, "terrorists" were their names for Stepan Bandera, members of pro-Ukrainian radical organizations, and, 18 times, "Kyiv terrorist on the bridge," Oleksiy Belko, who threatened to blow up a bridge in the capital.

The same Telegram channels periodically use the Russian, incorrect, use of the prepositions "in" and "on": "on Ukraine" (на Украине) instead of "in Ukraine", "in Donbass" (в Донбассе) [in Russian it was until recently "on" the Donbas, "на Донбассе"].

At the same time, the politically (and grammatically) incorrect prepositions betray the fact that the sources referred to by the Telegram channels are Russian. For example, on September 26, "The Resident" quoted news from Russia's TASS news agency: "Volodymyr Zelensky sent a signal to the public that he is ready to resign if there is a Maidan. The second signal is that 80% are in favor of peace on Ukraine, and he believes that it is necessary to withdraw troops and implement the Minsk agreements."

And these are not isolated cases. Content analysis shows that "The Legitimate" and "The Resident" refer to Russian sources even when the same news is being published by the European media. For example, on October 17, “The Legitimate” refers to the Yandex.ru website: “The UN Monitoring Mission on Ukraine urged the Verkhovna Rada deputies to initiate the closure of the Myrotvorets website. At the same time, the Deutsche Welle website wrote the same sentence in the same news item with the correct preposition "in Ukraine".

Spy's cover is blown by minute detail.

100% lie

We calculated that more than 40% of the messages of the deputies' favorite Telegram channels among "Servant of the People" come out with the hashtag # gossip, # inside, or refer to an anonymous source. And under the guise of mystery, fakes are being born that push deputies to certain actions.

For example, "The Resident" and "The Legitimate" Telegram channels claim that their unknown admins or editors are magically in contact with people from the President's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, the Security Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other law enforcement agencies.

At the same time, they cite their sources in the Russian Kremlin, the FSB, Russian intelligence, and the "higher circles of the LDPR," who allegedly leak into the Telegram some confidential information from "Kremlin cuisine" and international negotiations. No Russian media can boast of such awareness. But the Telegram channels do not care: they exploit the image of informed strangers who, thanks to their intimate vocabulary, seem like close people, like some cousin who works in the Government.

This is how the shocking news items appear: "our sources in the Kremlin and the Office of the President of Ukraine provide an overview of the situation around the Normandy meeting," "our source from the Kremlin reports the details of a phone call between Putin and Macron," "our source close to the negotiation process gives us an interesting layout of the situation around the "LDPR" and the meeting of the "Normandy Four".

And, as our poll among deputies demonstrated, none of them can distinguish truth from falsehood by 100%. And this is impossible in principle. We can only show a few vivid examples of loud insides with predictions that never came true and were not confirmed:

Simple math sometimes helps to disprove the inventions of the Telegram channel administrators.

For example, "The Legitimate" wrote that in December 2019, unknown people were to organize 2,000 armed paramilitaries for permanent residence in Zolote town on the demarcation line in the JFO zone. At the same time, the anonymous authors of the channel claimed that each participant was promised 1 to 2 thousand dollars a week, and one of the groups of 500 people was headed by the leader of the Right Sector Dmytro Yarosh.

And then the "Resident" added: "Our source in the SBU said that buses with radicals from Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Khmelnytsky are being filled to move to Kyiv. The amount for the fighters ranges from 100 to 300 dollars per day."

Let's calculate the budget of such an operation for one week: 2000 fighters by $2000 = $4,000,000 per week. Not an insignificant sum. Maybe that's why the 2,000-strong detachment never arrived?

At the same time, the Telegram channels we have studied periodically "debunk fakes" themselves, reacting to scandals that are unfavorable, for example, to the Russian Federation.

For example, on January 9, "The Resident" praised the publication of the online publication Strana.UA for debunking the myth of a Russian (!) missile that allegedly shot down the Ukrainian Boeing in Iran. For some reason, the authors of the Telegram channel are very concerned about the image of the Russian Federation: "... Someone is trying hard to make this fake the main one for the Ukrainian side." Then devastating criticism of this fake sounded from the Telegram channel "The Legitimate": "FAKES are now being disseminated by Poroshenko's bots".

But for some reason there is no word in eight months about the Malaysian Boeing MH-17 shot down by Russian "Buk" near Donetsk in the studied Telegram channels.

In order not to draw attention to their failed predictions, the Telegram channels regularly make selections of those insides that came true later. They thank the journalists who "did not follow the instructions of the President's Office and continue to publish content from Telegram channels." And thus increase their influence on the audience.

The article was prepared with the support of the Institute of Mass Information

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