The already repressive Putin regime cracked down further on free press in the wake of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. In the following days and weeks Russia blocked international outlets like BBC Russian News Service or RFE/RL and even platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Others left voluntarily – streaming giant Netflix left the country in March 2022 in protest to Russia’s invasion.
This has left millions lost in a bubble of pro-government propaganda. While news is generally accessible via VPN, apps or messenger services like Telegram, many people in Russia simply don’t make the effort to seek out reliable information. A depressing 63% get their news from television, an almost unadulterated source of propaganda.
Targeting people disengaged from news
Enter reCaptions, a project launched in early summer 2022 with the support of The Fix Media. The idea is relatively simple: millions of Russians watch pirated movies and TV shows each year and many need to download Russian subtitles. To do so, they go to a myriad of websites, like Opensubtitles.org or ThePrirateBay.org. [Note: reCaptions is keeping its list of used sites confidential].
By integrating news items, like the bombing of the theatre in Mariupol or a train in Kramatorsk, reCaptions brings important information to Russian audiences. The key is to have new items that would be both emotionally impactful and short enough to fit into the subtitle frame – basically a maximum of two lines. Importantly, they also then add the source of the news, for example The Guardian.
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