Why two Russian Telegram channels define information agenda

Author : Julian Hans

Source : 112 Ukraine

"Nezygar" and "Metodichka" are two most popular political channels of the Telegram Messenger. They propose the Kremlin insides, news from ministries and Russian authorities before other media reports it
13:16, 15 December 2017

Read the original text at Süddeutsche Zeitung.


"What can you think, for example, about the message that the Russian president is now studying the drafts of the reform of the police and secret services? Various services that belonged to the KGB during Soviet times should be re-affiliated with the FSB in order to create a "super-department" to protect the state security", the report said. "Metodichka" channel (@ metodi4ka) reported on this. And "Nezygar" (@ russica2) channel informs meanwhile about the police raid in "Voentelecom", a telecommunications company related to the Ministry of Defense. "The search and arrest of the top managers have not been confirmed yet." Sources of this information are not called.

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"Nezygar" and "Metodichka" are the two most popular political channels of the Telegram messenger, which can be compared with Whatsapp. They promise to broadcast news from Kremlin’s insiders, ministries, and Russian authorities even before other media report it. The authors of this news remain anonymous; however, both channels are now considered the most influential sources of political news in Russia.

Telegram, the Russian Whatsapp, was launched by a young IT entrepreneur, Pavel Durov, four years ago. At first this program was just another instant messenger, fast, easy to use and with the ability to code the connection. Since Telegram introduced the so-called channels two years ago, this chat program has become a new media, through which news and rumors are spread. And also fake messages.

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Meanwhile, the number of subscribers has grown so rapidly that these free channels are being perceived as serious players in the information market. Regardless of whether these rumors are confirmed or not, they determine the topics that journalists pick up in newspapers, Internet portals, radio and television channels. "Nezygar" has channeled more than 90 thousand subscribers, while "Metodichka" has almost 40 thousand. The most popular political channel is "Stalingulag" (@stalin_gulag) with more than 160 thousand readers. It does not publish information from the insiders, but sharp comments about current political events.

These messages are not always accurate, they do not correspond to any classical journalistic norms, and this is not, actually, required. Only in a few months, some of these reports turn out to be true. In the summer, Telegram spread rumors that the Kremlin would like to see a woman as a liberal sparring partner of Vladimir Putin in the upcoming presidential election. In early September, the newspaper Vedomosti first picked up this rumor. And in the middle of October Ksenia Sobchak, lead anchor of the Dozhd channel and presumably Putin's godson, announced her nomination.

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Creating a channel is as easy as creating some chat. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, this channel functions as a one-way road: subscribers are only recipients, they cannot comment or rate. And although you can publish photos, videos, and audio files, most channels are limited to textual news. The journalistic forms do not play any role; most often they describe the news in the tone of the usual conversation, typical news chat.

The huge success of such news is not surprising, because the stronger the pressure against Russian traditional (and on social) media is, the more popular are such services as Telegram become. Perhaps the newspaper will not print any information that could create difficulties, but via Telegram the author can anonymously inform people all over the world. Therefore, when making guesses about who could stand behind these channels, the first suspicions fall on journalists.

The very name of "Nezygar" gives a hint. For a long time, Mikhail Zygar was the chief-editor of the C channel, which criticized the Kremlin. Two years ago his book about the inner life of the Putin system became a bestseller. In Germany, the book was published under the name "Endspiel". That is why there is a rumor that Mikhail Zygar stands behind this channel. Others believe that the channel is managed by people from the entourage of the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Speaking about "Metodichka" channel, it is assumed that the Kremlin itself might stand behind it, members of the State Duma or even the chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin.

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Besides large and influential political channels, there are thousands of channels on more narrow topics. For example, the "Oper Slil (@operdrain)" channel reports police news, sometimes inside information from security services and enforcement agencies, and "Kapitän Wrungel" (@ capt404) about the Russian army.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin is also monitoring news on the Telegram channels, which Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov admitted in September in the interview with the Vedomosti newspaper. This applies to the police, FSB secret service, and some ministries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prosecutor General's Office have their own official channels. The authorities repeatedly threatened to ban Telegram. The secret service of the FSB requires the provision of keys for deciphering the correspondence of users, as the militants of ISIS have communicated via this messenger. Durov still refuses this option.

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In the meantime, Telegram has become the arena of battles between various groups of influence in Russian politics, Vedomosti concludes. And also a market for advertising and political PR. For example, at regular intervals, "Stalingulag" channel recommends other websites to readers (but not on free basic).

The names of these sponsors are rarely called, especially when it comes to political rumors. So, according to some high-ranking official, quoted by Vedomosti newspaper, it is necessary to pay presumably up to 6,000 euros for the publication of one news on a popular channel. The name of this official is not called.

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