The story behind Breaking Censorship's mission to bring Ukraine news to Russians
Breaking Censorship won at The Drum Awards for Social Purpose 2022 in the Best Digital Campaign category for its ‘Breaking Putin’s Censorship’ work. Here, we find out more about what went into this successful project.
Breaking Censorship’s pro-information work can help Russian citizens understand the truth about the war in Ukraine
The Russian government works to stop Russian citizens from discovering what is happening in Ukraine. This includes direct censorship of websites that carry independent Russian-language news and bans on many social media platforms.
While the Russian government engages in disinformation at home and abroad, Breaking Censorship’s pro-information work can help Russian citizens understand the truth about the war in Ukraine.
To tackle Russian disinformation, Breaking Censorship has concentrated on showing real news of the war to the Russian people, with the aim of raising awareness of what is actually happening. This included access to uncensored or mirrored news sites, Telegram channels, Youtube channels and unique landing pages with reliable information.
Over the course of six months Breaking Censorship launched ads on a variety of different advertising platforms, geo-targeting Russians in the Russian Federation, and leading viewers to a variety of landing pages: partner organizations’ mirrored and/or uncensored news pages, and landing pages that it personally created for the purpose of this campaign - e.g. with instructions on how to download and use a VPN to access censored news.
Due to advertising sanctions for services such as Facebook and Google, the team was limited to platforms where advertising was not blocked in Russia. Therefore, it launched content on ad platforms with low moderation and extremely high reach (to ensure that it doesn't compromise the campaign, it cannot disclose the platforms it operates on). But it did measure the click-through rates to see what content was the most engaging for Russians and what drove the most landing page views.
Considering the parameters on targeting specific audiences and the changing laws against dissent and ‘disinformation’ in Russia, the team ran messaging tests to accommodate for changing attitudes and motivation to find real news.
Politically explicit messaging about the war (e.g. protests against the war in Russia. Many western news sites are currently blocked in Russia, meaning Russians can only see the propaganda issued by the Kremlin. Therefore, it worked directly with independent Russian media like Meduza and ROMB to ensure that viewers had continuous access to reliable news. Together, they ran landing page tests to observe if viewers accessed the information it provided, by using unique URLs, or private, unlisted videos to measure precise landing page views.
Leveraging its PR opportunities enabled the team to attract new funders to the campaign and it managed to successfully raise over £40,000 in the first few weeks from a Crowdfunder, and subsequently raised over £300,000 from pro-democracy foundations over the course of eight months.
It expects substantially increased funding in the next six months because governments and foundations are giving extremely positive feedback on the unique role of the campaign.
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Many Ukrainian, Russian, and other pro-democracy campaigners have lent their support to the campaign.
Due to the Russian environment and threats of arrest for spreading ‘disinformation’, it is very difficult to directly measure if advertising has changed minds. Therefore, it measures engagement with advertising and visits to independent media websites, to assess whether the demand for real information is strong among Russian people. A strong demand for real news implies doubt about the state narrative and consequently weaker support for the invasion.